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FEMINIST 

THOUGHT 


Feminist 

Thought 




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THIRD EDITION 


Feminist 

THOUGHT 

A MORE COMPREHENSIVE 
INTRODUCTION 


Rosemarie Tong 

University of North Carolina, Charlotte 



A Member of the Perseus Books Group 





Copyright © 2009 by Westview Press 
Published by Westview Press, 

A Member of the Perseus Books Group 

All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be 
reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of 
brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, address 
Westview Press, 2465 Central Avenue, Boulder, Colorado 80301-2877. 

Find us on the World Wide Web at www.westviewpress.com. 

Westview Press books are available at special discounts for bulk purchases in the United 
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please contact the Special Markets Department at the Perseus Books Group, 2300 
Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA, or call (800) 810-4145, extension 5000, 
or e-mail special.markets@perseusbooks.com. 

A CIP catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress 


ISBN: 978-0-8133-4375-4 
10 9 8 76 5 4 3 2 1 



Contents 

Preface ix 

Acknowledgments xi 

Introduction: The Diversity of Feminist Thinking 1 

1 Liberal Feminism 1 1 

Conceptual Roots of Liberal Feminist Thought and Action 1 1 

Eighteenth-Century Thought: Equal Education 13 

Nineteenth-Century Thought: Equal Liberty 16 

Nineteenth-Century Action: The Suffrage 2 1 

Twentieth-Century Action: Equal Rights 23 

Twentieth-Century Thought: Sameness Versus Difference 27 

Contemporary Directions in Liberal Feminism 34 

Critiques of Liberal Feminism 37 

Conclusion 45 

2 Radical Feminism: Libertarian and Cultural Perspectives 48 

Libertarian and Cultural Views on the Sex/Gender System 5 1 

Some Libertarian Views on Gender 52 

Some Cultural Views on Gender 56 

Sexuality, Male Domination, and Female Subordination 65 

The Pornography Debate 68 

The Lesbianism Controversy 71 

Reproduction, Men, and Women 73 

Libertarian and Cultural Views on Mothering 82 

Critiques of Radical-Libertarian and Radical-Cultural Feminism 90 


v 



vi Contents 

3 Marxist and Socialist Feminism: Classical and Contemporary 96 

Some Marxist Concepts and Theories 97 

Classical Marxist Feminism: General Reflections 106 

Contemporary Socialist Feminism: General Reflections 110 

Women’s Labor Issues 118 

Critiques of Marxist and Socialist Feminism 125 

Conclusion 126 

4 Psychoanalytic Feminism 128 

Sigmund Freud 129 

Feminist Critiques of Freud 133 

Early Feminist Appropriations of Freud 135 

Later Feminist Appropriations of Freud 138 

Psychoanalytic Feminism: General Reflections 152 

Conclusion 160 

5 Care-Focused Feminism 163 

The Roots of Care-Focused Feminism 164 

Maternal Ethics and the Ethics of Care 181 

Conclusion 195 

6 Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism 200 

Multicultural Feminism: General Reflections 201 

Roots of Multicultural Feminism in the United States 202 

Interlocking Sources of Womens Oppression 204 

Conceptual Challenges for Multicultural Feminism 207 

Global and Postcolonial Feminism: General Reflections 215 

Diversity and Commonality 217 

Sexual/Reproductive Issues Versus Economic Issues 218 

Knowing When to Respect Women’s Culture 228 

Conclusion 233 

7 Ecofeminism 237 

Some Roots of Ecofeminism 238 

Ecofeminism: New Philosophy or Ancient Wisdom? 242 

Tensions in Nature: Ecofeminist Thought 243 



Contents vii 


Spiritual Ecofeminism 252 

Transformative Ecofeminism 256 

Global Ecofeminism 261 

Critiques of Ecofeminism 265 

Conclusion 268 

8 Postmodern and Third- Wave Feminism 270 

Postmodernism/Postmodern Feminism: Keynotes 272 

Critique of Postmodern Feminism 283 

Third- Wave Feminism 284 

Critique of Third-Wave Feminism 289 

Conclusion 290 

Notes 293 

Bibliography 333 

Index 401 



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Preface 


Oftentimes, a new edition of a book, particularly a third edition, amounts to lit- 
tle more than some added references and updates. But I can assure readers that 
this new edition of Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction, con- 
stitutes a major overhaul: eighteen months of drafting and redrafting. Chapters 
that remain substantially the same are the chapters on liberal feminism, radical 
feminism, and ecofeminism, though even these have significant revisions. Sub- 
stantially reformulated chapters are the ones on psychoanalytic feminism and 
Marxist/socialist feminism. I have reassigned some feminist thinkers I previ- 
ously classified as postmodern feminists to the psychoanalytic feminist fold, and 
I have amplified my discussion of socialist feminism in ways that better clarify 
the differences between it and Marxist feminism. In addition, although Chapter 
6, “Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism,” includes ideas from the 
second edition, I have thoroughly revised the section on multicultural femi- 
nism, offering new interpretations of this mode of feminist thinking. Further 
enhancing this chapter, which is now one of my favorite chapters, is a serious 
effort to address the differences between multicultural, global, and postcolonial 
feminism. New or expanded discussions of Susan Okin, Martha Nussbaum, 
Chila Bulbeck, Linda Martin Alcoff, and Adrian Piper are featured. Another 
chapter that blends a bit of old material with much new material is Chapter 8, 
“Postmodern and Third- Wave Feminism.” Among the feminist thinkers now 
showcased are Helene Cixous, Judith Butler, Leslie Heywood, Jennifer Drake, 
and Rebecca Walker. Finally, a new chapter makes its debut in this third edition. 
Although Chapter 5, “Care-Focused Feminism,” includes previous discussions 
of Carol Gilligan and Nel Noddings, equally long discussions of Virginia Held 
and Eva Feder Kittay have been added. 



x Preface 


As I reflect on this third edition of Feminist Thought, I realize how quickly 
and richly feminist thinking has developed. I applaud the creative and schol- 
arly abilities of the feminists whose work I try to summarize, interpret, and 
share with as wide and diverse an audience as possible. Feminist thinking has 
energized the academy and challenged it to reject the limits that had been 
previously imposed on it by a “white/male/exclusionary” modality of 
thought. Just as importantly — indeed more importantly — feminist thinking 
has motivated feminist action. The world is more fair, just, and caring thanks 
to the ideas not only of the feminist thinkers featured in this book but also 
the many feminist thinkers who, for lack of pen perhaps, have not been able 
to write down, let alone widely publicize their ideas. It is to this group of 
feminist thinkers I dedicate this book. 



Acknowledgments 


As anyone who has ever written a book knows, it is not a solo project. Rather, it 
is a collaborative effort. My only fear is that I will fail to say a public thank-you 
to one of the persons who helped me bring this book to completion. 

First, I want to thank Lisa Singleton for the long hours she spent research- 
ing for me and the even longer hours she spent typing draft after draft of a 
book that seemed without end. Without Lisa’s cheerful commitment to this 
project, it would not have seen the light of day. There is no way that I can 
thank this gifted woman enough. 

Second, I want to thank Karl Yambert, my editor. His patience is that of 
Job. Due to life’s unpredictable and sometimes sad detours, it took me far 
longer to complete this book than I hoped. Rather than chastising me, Karl 
made things easy for me. Had I had a less understanding editor, I would have 
probably abandoned this third edition. 

Third, I want to thank my diligent copyeditor, Patty Boyd, for perfecting 
my manuscript and the anonymous reviewers who motivated me to improve 
it. Their behind-the-scenes work is most appreciated. 

I also want to thank Laura Stine, my project editor, for getting this edition 
of Feminist Thought to press. 

Finally, I thank all feminist thinkers for building a body of thought that is 
moving us closer to being a more just and compassionate world. I am grateful 
to be a part of this effort and hope to remain a part of it until the day I die. 


xi 



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Introduction: 

The Diversity of Feminist Thinking 


Since writing my first introduction to feminist thought nearly two decades ago, 
I have become increasingly convinced that feminist thought resists categoriza- 
tion into tidy schools of thought. Interdisciplinary, intersectional, and interlock- 
ing are the kind of adjectives that best describe the way we feminists think. 
There is a certain breathlessness in the way we move from one topic to the next, 
revising our thoughts in midstream. Yet despite the very real problems that 
come with trying to categorize the thought of an incredibly diverse and large 
array of feminist thinkers as “x” or “y” or “z,” feminist thought is old enough to 
have a history complete with a set of labels: liberal, radical, Marxist/socialist, 
psychoanalytic, care-focused, multicultural/global/colonial, ecofeminist, and 
postmodern/third wave. To be sure, this list of labels is incomplete and highly 
contestable. Indeed, it may ultimately prove to be entirely unreflective of femi- 
nism’s intellectual and political commitments to women. For now, however, 
feminist thought’s old labels still remain serviceable. They signal to the public 
that feminism is not a monolithic ideology and that all feminists do not think 
alike. The labels also help mark the range of different approaches, perspectives, 
and frameworks a variety of feminists have used to shape both their explana- 
tions for women’s oppression and their proposed solutions for its elimination. 

Because so much of contemporary feminist theory defines itself in reaction 
against traditional liberal feminism, liberalism is as good a place as any to begin 
a survey of feminist thought. This perspective received its classic formulation in 
Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women , 1 in John Stuart 
Mill’s “The Subjection of Women,” 2 and in the nineteenth-century women’s 
suffrage movement. Its main thrust, an emphasis still felt in contemporary 


1 



2 Introduction 


groups such as the National Organization of Women (NOW), is that female 
subordination is rooted in a set of customary and legal constraints that blocks 
womens entrance to and success in the so-called public world. To the extent 
that society holds the false belief that women are, by nature, less intellectually 
and physically capable than men, it tends to discriminate against women in the 
academy, the forum, and the marketplace. As liberal feminists see it, this dis- 
crimination against women is unfair. Women should have as much chance to 
succeed in the public realm as men do. Gender justice, insist liberal feminists, 
requires us, first, to make the rules of the game fair and, second, to make certain 
that none of the runners in the race for society’s goods and services is systemati- 
cally disadvantaged. 

But is the liberal feminist program drastic and dramatic enough to com- 
pletely undo women’s oppression? Radical feminists think not. They claim 
the patriarchal system is characterized by power, dominance, hierarchy, and 
competition. It cannot be reformed but only ripped out root and branch. It 
is not just patriarchy’s legal and political structures that must be overturned 
on the way to women’s liberation. Its social and cultural institutions (espe- 
cially the family and organized religion) must also be uprooted. 

As in the past, I remain impressed by the diverse modalities of thinking 
that count as “radical feminist thought.” Although all radical feminists focus 
on sex, gender, and reproduction as the locus for the development of femi- 
nist thought, 3 some of them favor so-called androgyny, stress the pleasures of 
sex (be it heterosexual, lesbian, or autoerotic), and view as unalloyed bless- 
ings for women not only the old reproduction-controlling technologies but 
also the new reproduction-assisting technologies. In contrast, other radical 
feminists reject androgyny; emphasize the dangers of sex, especially hetero- 
sexual sex; and regard as harmful to women the new reproduction-assisting 
technologies and, for the most part, the old reproduction-controlling tech- 
nologies. As in the second edition of my book, I sort this varied array of rad- 
ical feminist thinkers into two groups: “radical-libertarian feminists” and 
“radical-cultural feminists.” 4 

With respect to gender-related issues, radical-libertarian feminists usually 
reason that if, to their own detriment, men are required to exhibit mascu- 
line characteristics only, and if, to their own detriment, women are required 
to exhibit feminine characteristics only, then the solution to this harmful 
state of affairs is to permit all human beings to be androgynous — to exhibit 
a full range of masculine and feminine qualities. Men should be permitted 
to explore their feminine dimensions, and women their masculine ones. No 
human being should be forbidden the sense of wholeness that comes from 
combining his or her masculine and feminine sides. 



Introduction 3 


Disagreeing with radical-libertarian feminists that a turn to androgyny is a 
liberation strategy for women, radical-cultural feminists argue against this 
move in one of three ways. Some anti-androgynists maintain the problem is 
not femininity in and of itself, but rather the low value that patriarchy assigns 
to feminine qualities such as “gendeness, modesty, humility, supportiveness, 
empathy, compassionateness, tenderness, nurturance, intuitiveness, sensitiv- 
ity, unselfishness,” and the high value it assigns to masculine qualities such as 
“assertiveness, aggressiveness, hardiness, rationality or the ability to think log- 
ically, abstractly and analytically, ability to control emotion.” 5 They claim that 
if society can learn to value “feminine” traits as much as “masculine” traits, 
women’s oppression will be a bad memory. Other anti-androgynists object, 
insisting femininity is the problem because it has been constructed by men for 
patriarchal purposes. In order to be liberated, women must reject femininity 
as it has been constructed for them and give it an entirely new meaning. Fem- 
ininity should no longer be understood as those traits that deviate from mas- 
culinity. On the contrary, femininity should be understood as a way of being 
that needs no reference point external to it. Still other anti-androgynists, 
reverting to a “nature theory,” argue that despite patriarchy’s imposition of a 
false, or inauthentic, feminine nature upon women, many women have 
nonetheless rebelled against it, unearthing their true, or authentic, female 
nature instead. Full personal freedom for a woman consists, then, in her abil- 
ity to renounce her false feminine self in favor of her true female self. 

As difficult as it is to fully reflect the range of radical feminist thought on 
gender, it is even more difficult to do so with respect to sexuality. Radical- 
libertarian feminists argue that no specific kind of sexual experience should 
be prescribed as the best kind for women. 6 Every woman should be encour- 
aged to experiment sexually with herself, with other women, and with men. 
Although heterosexuality can be dangerous for women within a patriarchal 
society, women must nonetheless feel free to follow the lead of their own 
desires, embracing men if that is their choice. 

Radical-cultural feminists disagree. They stress that through pornography, 
prostitution, sexual harassment, rape, and woman battering, 7 through foot 
binding, suttee, purdah, clitoridectormy, witch burning, and gynecology, 8 men 
have controlled women’s sexuality for male pleasure. Thus, in order to be liber- 
ated, women must escape the confines of heterosexuality and create an exclu- 
sively female sexuality through celibacy, autoeroticism, or lesbianism. 9 Only 
alone, or with other women, can women discover the true pleasure of sex. 

Radical feminist thought is as diverse on issues related to reproduction as 
it is on matters related to sexuality. Radical-libertarian feminists claim bio- 
logical motherhood drains women physically and psychologically. 10 Women 



4 Introduction 


should be free, they say, to use the old reproduction-controlling technolo- 
gies and the new reproduction-assisting technologies on their own terms — 
to prevent or terminate unwanted pregnancies or, alternatively, so that 
women can have children when they want them (premenopausally or post- 
menopausally), how they want them (in their own womb or that of another 
woman), and with whom they want them (a man, a woman, or alone). 
Some radical-libertarian feminists go farther than this, however. They look 
forward to the day when ectogenesis (extracorporeal gestation in an artificial 
placenta) entirely replaces the natural process of pregnancy. In contrast to 
radical-libertarian feminists, radical-cultural feminists claim biological 
mother-hood is the ultimate source of woman’s power. 11 It is women who 
determine whether the human species continues — whether there is life or 
no life. Women must guard and celebrate this life-giving power, for without 
it, men will have even less respect and use for women than they have now. 12 

Somewhat unconvinced by the liberal and radical feminist agendas for 
women’s liberation, Marxist and socialist feminists claim it is impossible for 
anyone, especially women, to achieve true freedom in a class-based society, 
where the wealth produced by the powerless many ends up in the hands of 
the powerful few. With Friedrich Engels, 13 Marxist and socialist feminists 
insist women’s oppression originated in the introduction of private property, 
an institution that obliterated whatever equality of community humans had 
previously enjoyed. Private ownership of the means of production by rela- 
tively few persons, originally all male, inaugurated a class system whose con- 
temporary manifestations are corporate capitalism and imperialism. 
Reflection on this state of affairs suggests that capitalism itself, not just the 
larger social rules that privilege men over women, is the cause of women’s 
oppression. If all women — rather than just the “exceptional” ones — are ever 
to be liberated, the capitalist system must be replaced by a socialist system in 
which the means of production belong to everyone. No longer economically 
dependent on men, women will be just as free as men. 

Socialist feminists agree with Marxist feminists that capitalism is the 
source of women’s oppression, and with radical feminists that patriarchy is 
the source of women’s oppression. Therefore, the way to end women’s 
oppression, in socialist feminists’ estimation, is to kill the two-headed beast 
of capitalist patriarchy or patriarchal capitalism (take your pick). Motivated 
by this goal, socialist feminists seek to develop theories that explain the rela- 
tionship between capitalism and patriarchy. 

During the first stage of theory development, socialist feminists offered 
several “two-system” explanations of women’s oppression. Among these two- 
system theories were those forwarded by Juliet Mitchell and Alison Jaggar. In 



Introduction 5 


Women’s Estate, Mitchell claimed that women’s condition is determined not 
only by the structures of production (as Marxist feminists think), but also by 
the structures of reproduction and sexuality (as radical feminists believe), 
and the socialization of children (as liberal feminists argue ). 14 She stressed 
that women’s status and function in all of these structures must change if 
women are to achieve full liberation. Still, in the final analysis, Mitchell gave 
the edge to capitalism over patriarchy as women’s worst enemy. 

Like Mitchell, Alison Jaggar attempted to achieve a synthesis between 
Marxist and radical feminist thought. Acknowledging that all feminist per- 
spectives recognize the conflicting demands made on women as wives, moth- 
ers, daughters, lovers, and workers , 15 Jaggar insisted that socialist feminism is 
unique because of its concerted effort to interrelate the myriad forms of 
women’s oppression. She used the unifying concept of alienation to explain 
how, under capitalism, everything (work, sex, play) and everyone (family 
members and friends) that could be a source of women’s integration as per- 
sons becomes instead a cause of their disintegration. Together with Mitchell, 
Jaggar insisted there are only complex explanations for women’s subordina- 
tion. Yet, in contrast to Mitchell, she named patriarchy rather than capital- 
ism as the worst evil visited on women. 

After Mitchell and Jaggar, another group of socialist feminists aimed to 
develop new explanations of women’s oppression that did not in any way 
pinpoint capitalism or patriarchy as the primary source of women’s limited 
well-being and freedom. Iris Marion Young, Heidi Hartmann, and Sylvia 
Walby constructed explanations for women’s oppression that viewed capital- 
ism and patriarchy as interactive to the point of full symbiosis. To a greater 
or lesser extent, these thinkers addressed the question of whether capitalism 
could survive the death of patriarchy, or vice versa. Although the nuances of 
their theories were difficult to grasp, Young, Hartmann, and Walby — like 
their predecessors Mitchell and Jaggar — pushed feminists to address issues 
related to women’s unpaid, underpaid, or disvalued work. 

To the degree that liberal, radical, and Marxist-socialist feminists focus 
on the macrocosm (patriarchy or capitalism) in their respective explana- 
tions of women’s oppression, psychoanalytic feminists are most at home in 
the microcosm of the individual. They claim the roots of women’s oppres- 
sion are embedded deep in the female psyche. Initially, psychoanalytic 
feminists focused on Sigmund Freud’s work, looking within it for a better 
understanding of sexuality’s role in the oppression of women. According 
to Freud, in the so-called pre-Oedipal stage, all infants are symbiotically 
attached to their mothers, whom they perceive as omnipotent. The 
mother-infant relationship is an ambivalent one, however: sometimes 



6 Introduction 


mothers give too much — their presence is overwhelming — but other 
times mothers give too little — their absence disappoints. 

The pre-Oedipal stage ends with the so-called Oedipal complex, the pro- 
cess by which the boy gives up his first love object, the mother, in order to 
escape castration at the hands of the father. As a result of submitting his id 
(desires) to the superego (collective social conscience), the boy is fully inte- 
grated into culture. Together with his father, he will rule over nature and 
woman, both of whom supposedly contain a similarly irrational power. In 
contrast to the boy, the girl, who has no penis to lose, separates slowly from 
her first love object, the mother. As a result, the girl’s integration into culture 
is incomplete. She exists at the periphery, or margin, of culture as the one 
who does not rule but is ruled, largely because, as Dorothy Dinnerstein sug- 
gested, she fears her own power. 16 

Because the Oedipus complex is the root of male rule, or patriarchy, some 
psychoanalytic feminists speculate that the complex is nothing more than the 
product of men’s imagination — a psychic trap that everyone, especially women, 
should try to escape. Others object that unless we are prepared for reentry into a 
chaotic state of nature, we must accept some version of the Oedipus complex as 
the experience that integrates the individual into society. In accepting some ver- 
sion of the Oedipus complex, Sherry Ortner noted, we need not accept the 
Freudian version, according to which the qualities of authority, autonomy, and 
universalism are labeled male, whereas love, dependence, and particularism are 
labeled female. 17 These labels, meant to privilege that which is male over that 
which is female, are not essential to the Oedipus complex. Rather, they are sim- 
ply the consequences of a child’s actual experience with men and women. As 
Ortner saw it, dual parenting (as recommended also by Dorothy Dinnerstein 
and Nancy Chodorow) and dual participation in the workforce would change 
the gender valences of the Oedipus complex. 18 Authority, autonomy, and uni- 
versalism would no longer be the exclusive property of men; love, dependence, 
and particularism would no longer be the exclusive property of women. 

Not sure that dual parenting and dual participation in the workforce were 
up to changing the gender valences of the Oedipal complex, a new generation 
of psychoanalytic feminists turned to theorists like Jacques Lacan for more 
insights into the psychosexual dramas that produce “man” and “woman,” the 
“feminine” and the “masculine,” the “heterosexual” and the “lesbian,” and so 
forth. Formidable theorists like Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva claimed that 
feminists had spent too much time focusing on the Oedipal realm and not 
nearly enough time on the prelinguistic, pre-Oedipal domain. This domain, 
often referred to as the Imaginary, is the domain infants are supposed to leave 
behind so they can enter the Symbolic order, the realm of language, rules, and 



Introduction 7 


regimes: civilization. But, asked Irigaray and Kristeva, why should women 
abandon the Imaginary so they can be oppressed, suppressed, and repressed in 
patriarchy’s Symbolic order? Why not instead stay in the Imaginary, and relish 
the joy of being different from men? Why not remain identified with one’s 
first love, the mother, and develop with her new ways of speaking and writing, 
of constituting one’s subjectivity, that do not lead to women’s oppression? 
Why lead life on men’s terms at all? 

In earlier editions of this book, I had included theorists like Carol Gilligan 
and Nel Noddings with psychoanalytic feminists because of their interest in 
women’s psychology But I now realize that Gilligan and Noddings are not the 
same kind of thinkers as those I currently classify as psychoanalytic feminists. 
What distinguishes Gilligan and Noddings from psychoanalytic feminists, and 
what links them to feminists thinkers like Sara Ruddick, Virginia Held, and 
Eva Feder Kittay, is their focus on the nature and practice of care. More than 
any other group of feminist thinkers, care-focused feminists are interested in 
understanding why, to a greater or lesser degree, women are usually associated 
with the emotions and the body, and men with reason and the mind. On a 
related note, care-focused feminists seek to understand why women as a group 
are usually linked with interdependence, community, and connection, whereas 
men as a group are usually linked with independence, selfhood, and autonomy. 
These thinkers offer a variety of explanations for why societies divide realities 
into things “feminine” and things “masculine.” But whatever their explanation 
for men’s and women’s differing gender identities and behaviors, care-focused 
feminists regard women’s hypothetically greater capacities for care as a human 
strength, so much so that they tend to privilege feminist approaches to an 
ethics of care over the reigning ethics of justice in the Western world. In addi- 
tion, care-focused feminists provide excellent explanations for why women as a 
group disproportionately shoulder the burden of care in virtually all societies, 
and why men as a group do not routinely engage in caring practices. Finally, 
care-focused feminists provide plans and policies for reducing women’s burden 
of care so that women have as much time and energy as men have to develop 
themselves as full persons. 

Fike all the feminists who preceded them and now overlap with them, 
multicultural, global, and postcolonial feminists focus on the causes of and 
explanations for women’s subordination to men worldwide. However, these 
groups’ main contribution to feminist thought is their strong commitment 
to highlighting the differences that exist among women and identifying ways 
that diverse kinds of women can work together. Unafraid of the challenges 
that women’s differences sometimes present to women’s alleged solidarity, 
multicultural, global, and postcolonial feminists courageously address the 



8 Introduction 


ways in which race, ethnicity, sexual identity, gender identity, age, religion, 
level of education, occupation/profession, marital status, health condition, 
and so on, may separate one group of women from another. They aim to 
reveal how contextual factors shape women’s self-understanding as being 
oppressed or not oppressed. They also seek to help feminists reject both 
female essentialism (the view that all women are, down deep, exactly 
alike) and female chauvinism (the view that privileged women should take 
it upon themselves to speak on behalf of all women). 

Although the terms “multicultural,” “global,” and “postcolonial” are often 
used interchangeably to describe feminists who focus on womens varying social, 
cultural, economic, and political contexts, I reserve the term “multicultural” to 
denote feminists who focus on the differences that exist among women who live 
within the boundaries of one nation-state or geographical area. In turn, I use the 
terms “global” or “postcolonial” to denote feminists who focus on the ways in 
which most womens lives in most developing nations are generally worse off 
than most women’s lives in most developed nations. These feminists challenge 
women in developed nations to acknowledge that many of their privileges are 
bought at the expense of the well-being of women in developing nations. 
Regrettably, the harmful effects of nineteenth- and twentieth-century coloniza- 
tion campaigns are still felt in the so-called Third World. 

As attentive as multicultural, global, and postcolonial feminists are to the 
complexities of human beings’ relationships to each other, they do not focus, as 
ecofeminists do, on human beings’ relationships to the nonhuman world — that 
is, to nature itself. In many ways, ecofeminists offer the broadest and also the 
most demanding conception of the self’s relationship to the other. According to 
ecofeminists, we are connected not only to each other but also to the non- 
human world: animal and even vegetative. Unfortunately, we do not always 
acknowledge our responsibilities to each other, let alone to the nonhuman 
world. As a result, we deplete the world’s natural resources with our machines, 
pollute the environment with our toxic fumes, and stockpile arms centers with 
tools of total destruction. In so doing, we delude ourselves that we are control- 
ling nature and enhancing ourselves. In point of fact, said ecofeminist Ynestra 
King, nature is already rebelling, and each day the human self is impoverished as 
yet another forest is “detreed” and yet another animal species is extinguished. 19 
The only way not to destroy ourselves, insist ecofeminists, is to strengthen our 
relationships not only with each other but also with the nonhuman world. 

Challenging all the versions of feminism that have preceded them, post- 
modern and third-wave feminists push feminist thought to new limits. 
Although postmodern feminists’ insistence that women are in no way “one” 
poses problems for feminist theory and action (if women do not exist as a class 



Introduction 9 


or group or collectivity, it is difficult to fight against womens oppression), this 
insistence also adds needed fuel to the feminist fires of plurality, multiplicity, 
and difference. Moreover, postmodern feminists’ rejection of in-the-box 
thinking helps feminists speak and write in ways that overcome the binary 
oppositions of traditional patriarchal thought. Postmodern feminists erase the 
lines between masculine and feminine, sex and gender, male and female. They 
seek to break down the conceptual grids that have prevented women from 
defining themselves in their own terms rather than through men’s terms. 

Third-wave feminists, eager to shape a new-millennium feminism, push just 
as hard as postmodern feminists do to rethink the category “woman/women.” 
For third-wave feminists, difference is the way the world is. Conflict and even 
self-contradiction are the name of the game as women seek new identities for 
themselves and stir up what Judith Buder termed “gender trouble.” 20 Yet for all 
their differences from first-wave and second-wave feminists, third-wave femi- 
nists have no intentions of thinking, speaking, or writing themselves and other 
women out of existence. Instead, they aim to answer the “woman question” — 
Who is she and what does she want? — in ways that it has never been answered 
before. 

Clearly, it is a major challenge to contemporary feminism to reconcile the 
pressures for diversity and difference with those for integration and com- 
monality. Fortunately, contemporary feminists do not shrink from this chal- 
lenge. It seems that each year, we better understand the reasons why women 
worldwide are the “second sex” and how to change this state of affairs. In this 
third edition of my book, I have tried to discuss the weaknesses as well as the 
strengths of each of the feminist perspectives presented here. In so doing, I 
have aimed not so much at neutrality as I have at respect, since each feminist 
perspective has made a rich and lasting contribution to feminist thought. At 
the end of this book, readers looking for one winning view, a champion left 
standing after an intellectual free-for-all, will be disappointed. Although all 
feminist perspectives cannot be equally correct, there is no need here for a 
definitive final say. Instead there is always room for growth, improvement, 
reconsideration, and expansion for true feminist thinkers. And this breathing 
space helps keep us free from the authoritarian trap of having to know it all. 

As I revised each chapter of this book and decided to delete some old 
chapters and add some new ones, I became increasingly convinced that I 
write out of a specific background of experience, as do we all. Thus, I have 
tried very hard to avoid either accepting or rejecting an analysis simply be- 
cause it resonates or fails to resonate with my own ideas and experiences. 
Whether I have largely succeeded or mostly failed in this attempt is some- 
thing I must leave up to you, my thoughtful readers. 



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1 

Liberal Feminism 


Liberalism, the school of political thought from which liberal feminism has 
evolved, is in the process of reconceptualizing, reconsidering, and restruc- 
turing itself . 1 Because this transformation is well under way, it is difficult to 
determine the precise status of liberal feminist thought. Therefore, if we 
wish to gauge the accuracy of Susan Wendell’s provocative claim that liberal 
feminism has largely outgrown its original base , 2 we must first understand 
the assumptions of both classical and welfare liberalism. It may turn out 
that liberal feminists are “liberal” only in some ways. 

Conceptual Roots of Liberal Feminist Thought and Action 

In Feminist Politics and Human Nature , 3 Alison Jaggar observed that liberal po- 
litical thought generally locates our uniqueness as human persons in our capac- 
ity for rationality. The belief that reason distinguishes us from other animals is, 
however, relatively uninformative, so liberals have attempted to define reason 
in various ways, stressing either its moral aspects or its prudential aspects. When 
reason is defined as the ability to comprehend the rational principles of moral- 
ity, then the value of individual autonomy is stressed. In contrast, when reason 
is defined as the ability to determine the best means to achieve some desired 
end, then the value of self-fulfillment is stressed . 4 

Whether liberals define reason largely in moral or prudential terms, they 
nevertheless concur that a just society allows individuals to exercise their 
autonomy and to fulfill themselves. Liberals claim that the “right” must be 
given priority over the “good .” 5 In other words, our entire system of individ- 
ual rights is justified because these rights constitute a framework within which 
we can all choose our own separate goods, provided we do not deprive others 


11 




12 Chapter 1: Liberal Feminism 


of theirs. Such a priority defends religious freedom, for example, neither on 
the grounds that it will increase the general welfare nor on the grounds that a 
godly life is inherently worthier than a godless one, but simply on the grounds 
that people have a right to practice their own brand of spirituality. The same 
holds for all those rights we generally identify as fundamental. 

The proviso that the right takes priority over the good complicates the con- 
struction of a just society. For if it is true, as most liberals claim, that resources 
are limited and each individual, even when restrained by altruism, 6 has an 
interest in securing as many available resources as possible, then it will be a 
challenge to create political, economic, and social institutions that maximize 
the individual’s freedom without jeopardizing the community’s welfare. 

When it comes to state interventions in the private sphere (family or 
domestic society), 7 liberals agree that the less we see of Big Brother in our 
bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, recreation rooms, and nurseries, the better. 
We all need places where we can, among family and friends, shed our public 
personae and be our “real” selves. When it comes to state intervention in the 
public sphere (civil or political society), 8 however, a difference of opinion 
emerges between so-called classical, or libertarian, liberals on the one hand, 
and so-called welfare, or egalitarian, liberals on the other. 9 

Classical liberals think the state should confine itself to protecting civil 
liberties (e.g., property rights, voting rights, freedom of speech, freedom of 
religion, freedom of association). They also think that, instead of interfering 
with the free market, the state should simply provide everyone with an equal 
opportunity to determine his or her own accumulations within that market. 
In contrast, welfare liberals believe the state should focus on economic dis- 
parities as well as civil liberties. As they see it, individuals enter the market 
with differences based on initial advantage, inherent talent, and sheer luck. 
At times, these differences are so great that some individuals cannot take 
their fair share of what the market has to offer unless some adjustments are 
made to offset their liabilities. Because of this perceived state of affairs, wel- 
fare liberals call for government interventions in the economy such as legal 
services, school loans, food stamps, low-cost housing, Medicaid, Medicare, 
Social Security, and Aid to Families with Dependent Children so that the 
market does not perpetuate or otherwise solidify huge inequalities. 

Although both classical-liberal and welfare-liberal streams of thought appear 
in liberal feminist thought, most contemporary liberal feminists seem to favor 
welfare liberalism. In fact, when Susan Wendell (not herself a liberal feminist) 
described contemporary liberal feminist thought, she stressed it is “committed to 
major economic re-organization and considerable redistribution of wealth, since 
one of the modem political goals most closely associated with liberal feminism is 



Eighteenth-Century Thought: Equal Education 13 


equality of opportunity, which would undoubtedly require and lead to 
both.” 10 Very few, if any, contemporary liberal feminists favor the elimination 
of government-funded safety nets for society’s most vulnerable members. 

Since it is nearly impossible to discuss all liberal feminist thinkers, move- 
ments, and organizations in a single book, I have decided to focus only on 
Mary Wollstonecraft, John Stuart Mill, Harriet Taylor (Mill), the woman’s 
suffrage movement in the United States, Betty Friedan, and the National 
Organization for Women. My aim is to construct a convincing argument 
that, for all its shortcomings, the overall goal of liberal feminism is the wor- 
thy one of creating “a just and compassionate society in which freedom 
flourishes.” 11 Only in such a society can women and men thrive equally. 

Eighteenth-Century Thought: 

Equal Education 

Mary Wollstonecraft wrote at a time (1759-1799) when the economic and 
social position of European women was in decline. Up until the eighteenth 
century, productive work (work that generated an income from which a fam- 
ily could live) had been done in and around the family home by women as 
well as men. But then the forces of industrial capitalism began to draw labor 
out of the private home and into the public workplace. At first, this industri- 
alization moved slowly and unevenly, making its strongest impact on married, 
bourgeois women. These women were the first to find themselves left at home 
with little productive work to do. Married to relatively wealthy professional 
and entrepreneurial men, these women had no incentive to work outside the 
home or, if they had several servants, even inside it. 12 

In reading Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights ofWoman, li we see 
how affluence worked against these eighteenth-century, married, bourgeois 
women. Wollstonecraft compared such “privileged” women (whom she 
hoped to inspire to a fully human mode of existence) to members of “the 
feathered race,” birds that are confined to cages and that have nothing to do 
but preen themselves and “stalk with mock majesty from perch to perch.” 14 
Middle-class ladies were, in Wollstonecraft’s estimation, “kept” women who 
sacrificed health, liberty, and virtue for whatever prestige, pleasure, and 
power their husbands could provide. Because these women were not allowed 
to exercise outdoors lest they tan their lily-white skin, they lacked healthy 
bodies. Because they were not permitted to make their own decisions, they 
lacked liberty. And because they were discouraged from developing their 
powers of reason — given that a great premium was placed on indulging self 
and gratifying others, especially men and children — they lacked virtue. 



14 Chapter 1: Liberal Feminism 


Although Wollstonecraft did not use terms such as “socially constructed gen- 
der roles,” she denied that women are, by nature, more pleasure seeking and 
pleasure giving than men. She reasoned that if they were confined to the same 
cages that trap women, men would develop the same flawed characters. 15 Denied 
the chance to develop their rational powers, to become moral persons with con- 
cerns, causes, and commitments beyond personal pleasure, men, like women, 
would become overly “emotional,” a term Wollstonecraft tended to associate 
with hypersensitivity, extreme narcissism, and excessive self-indulgence. 

Given her generally negative assessment of emotion and the extraordinarily 
high premium she placed on reason as the capacity distinguishing human 
beings from animals, it is no wonder Wollstonecraft abhorred Jean-Jacques 
Rousseau’s Emile. 16 In this classic of educational philosophy, Rousseau por- 
trayed the development of rationality as the most important educational goal 
for boys, but not for girls. Rousseau was committed to sexual dimorphism, the 
view that “rational man” is the perfect complement for “emotional woman,” 
and vice versa. 17 As he saw it, men should be educated in virtues such as 
courage, temperance, justice, and fortitude, whereas women should be edu- 
cated in virtues such as patience, docility, good humor, and flexibility. Thus, 
Rousseau’s ideal male student, Emile, studies the humanities, the social sci- 
ences, and the natural sciences, whereas Rousseau’s ideal female student, 
Sophie, dabbles in music, art, fiction, and poetry while refining her homemak- 
ing skills. Rousseau hoped sharpening Emile’s mental capacities and limiting 
Sophie’s would make Emile a self-governing citizen and a dutiful paterfamilias 
and Sophie an understanding, responsive wife and a caring, loving mother. 

Wollstonecraft agreed with Rousseau’s projections for Emile but not with his 
projections for Sophie. Drawing upon her familiarity with middle-class ladies, 
she predicted that, fed a steady diet of “novels, music, poetry, and gallantry,” 
Sophie would become a detriment rather than a complement to her husband, a 
creature of bad sensibility rather than good sense. 18 filer hormones surging, her 
passions erupting, her emotions churning, Sophie would show no practical 
sense in performing her wifely and, especially, motherly duties. 

Wollstonecraft ’s cure for Sophie was to provide her, like Emile, with the 
kind of education that permits people to develop their rational and moral 
capacities, their full human potential. At times, Wollstonecraft constructed 
her argument in favor of educational parity in utilitarian terms. She claimed 
that unlike emotional and dependent women, who routinely shirk their 
domestic duties and indulge their carnal desires, rational and independent 
women will tend to be “observant daughters,” “affectionate sisters,” “faithful 
wives,” and “reasonable mothers.” 19 The truly educated woman will be a 
major contributor to society’s welfare. Rather than wasting her time and 



Eighteenth-Century Thought: Equal Education 1 5 


energy on idle entertainments, she will manage her household — especially 
her children — “properly.” 20 But it would be a mistake to think that most of 
Wollstonecraft’s arguments for educational parity were utilitarian. On the 
contrary, her overall line of reasoning in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman 
was remarkably similar to Immanuel Kant’s overall line of reasoning in the 
Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals — namely, that unless a person acts au- 
tonomously, he or she acts as less than a fully human person. 21 Wollstonecraft 
insisted if rationality is the capacity distinguishing human beings from ani- 
mals, then unless females are mere animals (a description most men refuse to 
apply to their own mothers, wives, and daughters), women as well as men 
have this capacity. Thus, society owes girls the same education that it owes 
boys, simply because all human beings deserve an equal chance to develop 
their rational and moral capacities so they can achieve full personhood. 

Repeatedly, Wollstonecraft celebrated reason, usually at the expense of 
emotion. As Jane Roland Martin said, “In making her case for the rights 
of women . . . [Wollstonecraft] presents us with an ideal of female educa- 
tion that gives pride of place to traits traditionally associated with males at 
the expense of others traditionally associated with females.” 22 It did not 
occur to Wollstonecraft to question the value of these traditional male 
traits. Nor did it occur to her to blame children’s lack of virtue on their 
absentee fathers, who should be summoned, in her view, only when “chas- 
tisement” is necessary. 23 On the contrary, she simply assumed traditional 
male traits were “good,” and women — not men — were the ones who were 
rationally and morally deficient. 

Throughout the pages of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Woll- 
stonecraft urged women to become autonomous decision makers; but be- 
yond insisting that the path to autonomy goes through the academy, she 
provided women with little concrete guidance. 24 Although Wollstonecraft 
toyed with the idea that women’s autonomy might depend on women’s 
economic and political independence from men, in the end she decided 
well-educated women did not need to be economically self-sufficient or po- 
litically active in order to be autonomous. In fact, Wollstonecraft dismissed 
the woman’s suffrage movement as a waste of time, since in her estimation, 
the whole system of legal representation was merely a “convenient handle 
for despotism.” 25 

Despite the limitations of her analysis, Wollstonecraft did present a vision 
of a woman strong in mind and body, a person who is not a slave to her pas- 
sions, her husband, or her children. For Wollstonecraft, the ideal woman is 
less interested in fulfilling herself — if by self-fulfillment is meant any sort of 
pandering to duty-distracting desires — than in exercising self-control. 26 In 



16 Chapter 1: Liberal Feminism 


order to liberate herself from the oppressive roles of emotional cripple, petty 
shrew, and narcissistic sex object, a woman must obey the commands of reason 
and discharge her wifely and motherly duties faithfully. 

What Wollstonecraft most wanted for women is personhood. She claimed 
that a woman should not be reduced to the “toy of man, his ratde,” which “must 
jingle in his ears whenever, dismissing reason, he chooses to be amused.” 27 In 
other words, a woman is not a “mere means,” or instrument, to one or more 
man’s pleasure or happiness. Rather, she is an “end-in-herself,” a rational agent 
whose dignity consists in having the capacity for self-determination. 28 To treat 
someone as a mere means is to treat her as less than a person, as someone who 
exists not for herself but as an appendage to someone else. So, for example, if a 
husband treats his wife as no more than a pretty indoor plant, he treats her as an 
object that he nurtures merely as a means to his own delight. Similarly, if a 
woman lets herself so be treated, she lets herself be treated in ways that do not 
accord with her status as a full human person. Rather than assuming responsibil- 
ity for her own development and growing into a mighty redwood, she forsakes 
her freedom and lets others shape her into a stunted bonsai tree. No woman, in- 
sisted Wollstonecraft, should permit such violence to be done to her. 

Nineteenth-Century Thought: 

Equal Liberty 

Writing approximately one hundred years later, John Stuart Mill and Harriet 
Taylor (Mill) joined Wollstonecraft in celebrating rationality. But they con- 
ceived of rationality not only morally, as autonomous decision making, but 
also prudentially, as calculative reason, or using your head to get what you 
want. That their understanding of rationality should differ from that of 
Wollstonecraft is not surprising. Unlike Wollstonecraft, both Mill and Taylor 
claimed the ordinary way to maximize aggregate utility (happiness/pleasure) 
is to permit individuals to pursue their desires, provided the individuals do 
not hinder or obstruct each other in the process. Mill and Taylor also 
departed from Wollstonecraft in insisting that if society is to achieve sexual 
equality, or gender justice, then society must provide women with the same 
political rights and economic opportunities as well as the same education 
that men enjoy. 

Like Mary Wollstonecraft, who twice attempted suicide, refused marriage 
until late in life, and had a child out of wedlock, John Stuart Mill and Harriet 
Taylor led fairly unconventional lives. They met in 1830, when Harriet Taylor 
was already married to John Taylor and was the mother of two sons (a third 
child, Helen, would be born later). Harriet Taylor and Mill were immediately 



Nineteenth-Century Thought: Equal Liberty 17 


attracted to each other, both intellectually and emotionally They carried on a 
close, supposedly platonic relationship for twenty years, until the death of 
John Taylor, whereupon they married. During the years before John Taylor’s 
death, Harriet Taylor and Mill routinely saw each other for dinner and fre- 
quendy spent weekends together along the English coast. John Taylor agreed 
to this arrangement in return for the “external formality” of Harriet’s residing 
“as his wife in his house.” 29 

Due to their unorthodox bargain with John Taylor, Harriet Taylor and Mill 
found the time to author, separately and conjointly, several essays on sexual 
equality. Scholars generally agree that Taylor and Mill coauthored “Early Essays 
on Marriage and Divorce” (1832), that Taylor wrote the “Enfranchisement of 
Women” (1851), and that Mill wrote “The Subjection of Women” (1869). 
The question of these works’ authorship is significant because Taylor’s views 
sometimes diverged from Mill’s. 

Given their personal situation, Mill and Taylor’s focus on topics such as 
marriage and divorce is not surprising. Confident in their relationship, Mill 
and Taylor did not feel they had to agree with each other about how to serve 
women’s and children’s best interests. Because she accepted the traditional 
view that maternal ties are stronger than paternal ties, Taylor simply assumed 
the mother would be the one to rear the children to adulthood in the event 
of divorce. Thus, she cautioned women to have few children. In contrast, 
Mill urged couples to marry late, have children late, and live in extended 
families or communelike situations so as to minimize divorce’s disrupting 
effects on children’s lives. 30 Apparently, Mill envisioned that divorced men as 
well as divorced women would play a role in their children’s lives. 

Although Taylor, unlike Mill, did not contest traditional assumptions 
about male and female child-rearing roles, she did contest traditional as- 
sumptions about women’s supposed preference for marriage and mother- 
hood over a career or occupation. Mill contended that even after women 
were fully educated and totally enfranchised, most of them would choose to 
remain in the private realm, where their primary function would be to 
“adorn and beautify” rather than to “support” life. 31 In contrast, in “En- 
franchisement of Women,” Taylor argued that women needed to do more 
than read books and cast ballots; they also needed to be partners with men 
“in the labors and gains, risks and remunerations of productive industry.” 32 
Thus, Taylor predicted that if society gave women a bona fide choice be- 
tween devoting their lives “to one animal function and its consequence” 33 
on the one hand, and writing great books, discovering new worlds, and 
building mighty empires on the other, many women would be only too 
happy to leave “home, sweet home” behind them. 



18 Chapter 1: Liberal Feminism 


Whereas the foregoing passages from “Enfranchisement” suggest Taylor 
believed a woman had to choose between housewifery and mothering on the 
one hand and working outside the home on the other, some other passages 
indicate she believed a woman had a third option: namely, adding a career or 
an occupation to her domestic and maternal roles and responsibilities. In 
fact, Taylor claimed a married woman cannot be her husband’s true equal 
unless she has the confidence and sense of entitlement that come from con- 
tributing “materially to the support of the family.” 34 Decidedly unimpressed 
by Mill’s 1 832 argument that women’s economic equality would depress the 
economy and subsequently lower wages, 35 Taylor wrote instead: “Even if 
every woman, as matters now stand, had a claim on some man for support, 
how infinitely preferable is it that part of the income should be of the 
woman’s earning, even if the aggregate sum were but little increased by it, 
rather than that she should be compelled to stand aside in order that men 
may be the sole earners, and the sole dispensers of what is earned.” 36 In 
short, in order to be partners rather than servants of their husbands, wives 
must earn an income outside the home. 

In further explaining her view that married as well as single women 
should work, Taylor betrayed her class bias. Insisting that women cannot 
both work full-time outside the home and be devoted wives and mothers 
without running themselves ragged, Taylor claimed that working wives with 
children would need a “panoply of domestic servants” to help ease their bur- 
dens. 37 In critic Zillah Eisenstein’s estimation, Taylor’s words revealed her 
privileged status. Circa 1850, only upper-middle-class women like Taylor 
could afford to hire a slew of household workers. 38 Thus, Taylor, a product of 
class privilege, offered rich women a way to “have it all” without offering 
poor women the same. Never did she wonder who would be taking care of 
the families of rich women’s hired female help. 

Like Wollstonecraft, Taylor wrote not so much to all women as to a certain 
privileged class of married women. Nonetheless, her writings helped smooth 
the entrance of many poor as well as rich women into the public world. So, 
too, did Mill’s. He argued in “The Subjection of Women” that if women’s 
rational powers were recognized as equal to men’s, then society would reap 
significant benefits: public-spirited citizens for society itself, intellectually 
stimulating spouses for husbands, a doubling of the “mass of mental faculties 
available for the higher service of humanity,” and a multitude of very happy 
women. 39 Although Mill’s case for the liberation of women did not depend 
on his ability to prove that all women can do anything men can do, it did 
depend on his ability to demonstrate that some women can do anything men 
can do. 40 Unlike Wollstonecraft, who put no “great stress on the example of a 



Nineteenth-Century Thought: Equal Liberty 19 


few women who, from having received a masculine education, have acquired 
courage and resolution,” 41 Mill used the life stories of exceptional women to 
strengthen his claim that male-female differences are not absolute but instead 
are differences of average. The average woman’s inability to do something the 
average man can do, said Mill, does not justify a law or taboo barring all 
women from attempting that thing. 42 

Mill also made the point that even if all women are worse than all men at 
something, this still does not justify forbidding women from trying to do 
that thing, for “what women by nature cannot do, it is quite superfluous to 
forbid them from doing. What they can do, but not so well as the men who 
are their competitors, competition suffices to exclude them from.” 43 
Although Mill believed women would fare quite well in any competitions 
with men, he conceded that occasionally a biological sex difference might tip 
the scales in favor of male competitors. Like Wollstonecraft, however, he 
denied the existence of general intellectual or moral differences between men 
and women: “I do not know a more signal instance of the blindness with 
which the world, including the herd of studious men, ignore and pass over 
all the influences of social circumstances, than their silly depreciation of the 
intellectual, and silly panegyrics on the moral, nature of women.” 44 

Also like Wollstonecraft earlier, Mill claimed that society’s ethical double 
standard hurts women. He thought many of the “virtues” extolled in women 
are, in fact, character traits that impede women’s progress toward personhood. 
This is as true for an ostensibly negative trait (helplessness) as for an ostensibly 
positive trait (unselfishness). Mill suggested that because women’s concerns were 
confined to the private realm, women were preoccupied with their own interests 
and those of their immediate families. As a result of this state of affairs, women’s 
unselfishness tended to take the form of extended egoism. Women’s charity typ- 
ically began and ended at home. They spared no effort to further the interests of 
their loved ones, but they showed scant regard for the common weal. 

As described above, women’s family-oriented unselfishness was not the 
humanitarian unselfishness Mill espoused. He treasured the unselfishness 
that motivates people to take into account the good of society as well as the 
good of the individual person or small family unit. Mill believed that if 
women were given the same liberties men enjoy, and if women were taught 
to value the good of the whole, then women would develop genuine 
unselfishness. This belief explains Mill’s passionate pleas for women’s suf- 
frage. He thought that when citizens vote, they feel obligated to cast their 
ballots in a way that benefits all of society and not just themselves and their 
loved ones. 45 Whether Mill was naive to think that citizens are inherently 
public-spirited is, of course, debatable. 



20 Chapter 1: Liberal Feminism 


Overall, Mill went further than Wollstonecraft did in challenging men’s 
alleged intellectual superiority. Stressing that men’s and women’s intellectual 
abilities are of the same kind, Wollstonecraft nonetheless entertained the 
thought that women might not be able to attain the same degree of knowl- 
edge that men could attain. 46 Mill expressed no such reservation. He insisted 
intellectual achievement gaps between men and women were simply the 
result of men’s more thorough education and privileged position. In fact, 
Mill was so eager to establish that men are not intellectually superior to 
women that he tended to err in the opposite direction, by valorizing women’s 
attention to details, use of concrete examples, and intuitiveness as a superior 
form of knowledge not often found in men. 47 

Unlike Taylor, and despite his high regard for women’s intellectual abilities, 
Mill assumed most women would continue to choose family over career even 
under ideal circumstances — with marriage a free contract between real equals, 
legal separation and divorce easily available to wives, and jobs open to women 
living outside the husband-wife relationship. He also assumed that women’s 
choice of family over career was entirely voluntary and that such a choice 
involved women consenting to put their other interests in life on the back 
burner until their children were adults: “Like a man when he chooses a profes- 
sion, so, when a woman marries, it may in general be understood that she 
makes choice of the management of a household, and the bringing up of a 
family, as the first call upon her exertions, during as many years of her life as 
may be required for the purpose; and that she renounces not all other objects 
and occupations, but all which are not consistent with the requirements of 
this.” 48 Mill’s words attested to his apparent belief that ultimately, women, 
more than men, are responsible for maintaining family life. However enlight- 
ened his general views about women were, Mill could not overcome the belief 
that she who bears the children is the person best suited to rear them. 

As noted, Taylor disagreed with Mill that truly liberated women would be 
willing to stay at home to rear their children to adulthood. Yet, like Mill, 
Taylor was fundamentally a reformist, not a revolutionary. To be sure, by 
inviting married women with children as well as single women to work out- 
side the home, Taylor did challenge the traditional division of labor within 
the family, where the man earns the money and the woman manages its use. 
But Taylor’s challenge to this aspect of the status quo did not go far enough. 
For example, it did not occur to her that if husbands were to parent along- 
side their wives and if domestic duties were equally divided, then both hus- 
bands and wives could work outside the home on a full-time basis, and 
working wives with children would not have to work a “double day” or hire a 
“panoply” of female servants to do their housework and childcare. 



Nineteenth- Century Action: The Suffrage 2 1 


Nineteenth-Century Action: 

The Suffrage 

Both John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill believed women needed suf- 
frage in order to become men’s equals. They claimed the vote gives people the 
power not only to express their own political views but also to change those 
systems, structures, and attitudes that contribute to their own and/or others’ 
oppression. Thus, it is not surprising that the nineteenth-century U.S. 
women’s rights movement, including the woman suffrage movement, was tied 
to the abolitionist movement, though not always in ways that successfully 
married gender and race concerns. 49 

When white men and women began to work in earnest for the abolition 
of slavery, it soon became clear to female abolitionists that male abolitionists 
were reluctant to link the women’s rights movement with the slaves’ rights 
movement. Noting it was difficult for whites (or was it simply white men r) to 
view women (or was it simply white women?) as an oppressed group, male 
abolitionists persuaded female abolitionists to disassociate women’s liberty 
struggles from blacks’ liberty struggles. Indeed, male abolitionists even con- 
vinced famed feminist orator Lucy Stone to lecture on abolition instead of 
women’s rights whenever her audience size was noticeably large. 50 

Convinced their male colleagues would reward them for being team play- 
ers, the U.S. women who attended the 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention 
in London thought that women would play a major role at the meeting. 
Nothing could have proved less true. Not even Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth 
Cady Stanton, two of the most prominent leaders of the U.S. women’s rights 
movement, were allowed to speak at the meeting. Angered by the way in 
which the men at the convention had silenced women, Mott and Stanton 
vowed to hold a women’s rights convention upon their return to the United 
States. Eight years later, in 1848, three hundred women and men met in 
Seneca Falls, New York, and produced a Declaration of Sentiments and twelve 
resolutions. Modeled on the Declaration of Independence, the Declaration of 
Sentiments stressed the issues Mill and Taylor had emphasized in England, 
particularly the need for reforms in marriage, divorce, property, and child cus- 
tody laws. The twelve resolutions emphasized women’s rights to express them- 
selves in public — to speak out on the burning issues of the day, especially “in 
regard to the great subjects of morals and religion,” which women were sup- 
posedly more qualified to address than men. 51 The only one of these resolu- 
tions the Seneca Falls Convention did not unanimously endorse was 
Resolution 9, Susan B. Anthony’s Woman’s Suffrage Resolution: “Resolved, 
that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their 



22 Chapter 1: Liberal Feminism 


sacred right to the franchise.” 52 Many convention delegates were reluctant to 
press such an “extreme” demand for fear that all of their demands would be 
rejected. Still, with the help of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, Resolution 9 
did manage to pass. 

Assessing the Seneca Falls Convention from the vantage point of the 
twentieth century, critics observe that, with the exception of Lucretia Mott’s 
hastily added resolution to secure for women “an equal participation with 
men in the various trades, professions, and commerce,” 53 the nineteenth- 
century meeting failed to address class concerns such as those that troubled 
underpaid white female mill and factory workers. Moreover, the convention 
rendered black women nearly invisible. In the same way that the abolitionist 
movement had focused on the rights of black men, the nineteenth-century 
women’s rights movement focused on the rights of mostly privileged white 
women. Neither white women nor white men seemed to notice much about 
black women. 

Yet, many working-class white women and black women did contribute to 
the nineteenth-century women’s rights movement. In fact, some black women 
were exceptionally gifted feminist orators. For example, Sojourner Truth 
delivered her often quoted speech on behalf of women at an 1851 women’s 
rights convention in Akron, Ohio. Responding to a group of male hecklers, 
who taunted that it was ludicrous for (white) women to desire the vote since 
they could not even step over a puddle or get into a horse carriage without 
male assistance, Sojourner Truth pointed out that no man had ever extended 
such help to her. Demanding the audience look at her black body, Sojourner 
Truth proclaimed that her “womanhood,” her “female nature,” had never pre- 
vented her from working, acting, and yes, speaking like a man: “I have 
ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns and no man could head me! 
And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man — when 
I could get it — and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne 
thirteen children and seen them most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried 
out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?” 54 

As the fates would have it, the Civil War began just as the women’s rights 
movement was gaining momentum. Seeing in this tragic war their best 
opportunity to free the slaves, male abolitionists again asked feminists to put 
women’s causes on the back burner, which they reluctantly did. But the end 
of the Civil War did not bring women’s liberation with it, and feminists 
increasingly found themselves at odds with recently emancipated black men. 
Concerned that women’s rights would again be lost in the struggle to secure 
black (men’s) rights, the male as well as female delegates to an 1866 national 
women’s rights convention decided to establish an Equal Rights Association. 



Twentieth-Century Action: Equal Rights 23 


Co-chaired by Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the associa- 
tion had as its announced purpose the unification of the black (men’s) and 
woman suffrage struggles. There is considerable evidence, however, that 
Stanton and some of her co-workers actually “perceived the organization as a 
means to ensure that Black men would not receive the franchise unless and 
until white women were also its recipients.” 55 Unmoved by Douglass’s and 
Truth’s observation that on account of their extreme vulnerability, black men 
needed the vote even more than women did, Anthony and Stanton were 
among those who successfully argued for the dissolution of the Equal Rights 
Association for fear that the association might indeed endorse the passage of 
the Fifteenth Amendment, which enfranchised black men but not women. 

Upon the dissolution of the Equal Rights Association, Anthony and Stanton 
established the National Woman Suffrage Association. At approximately the 
same time, Lucy Stone, who had some serious philosophical disagreements with 
Stanton and especially Anthony about the role of organized religion in women’s 
oppression, founded the American Woman Suffrage Association. Flencefor- 
ward, the U.S. women’s rights movement would be split in two. 

In the main, the National Woman Suffrage Association forwarded a revolu- 
tionary feminist agenda for women, whereas the American Woman Suffrage As- 
sociation pushed a reformist feminist agenda. Most American women gravitated 
toward the more moderate American Woman Suffrage Association. By the time 
these two associations merged in 1 890 to form the National American Woman 
Suffrage Association, the wide-ranging, vociferous women’s rights movement of 
the early nineteenth century had been transformed into the single-issue, rela- 
tively tame woman’s suffrage movement of the late nineteenth century. From 
1890 until 1920, when the Nineteenth Amendment was passed, the National 
American Woman Suffrage Association confined almost all of its activities to 
gaining the vote for women. Victorious after fifty-two years of concerted strug- 
gle, many of the exhausted suffragists chose to believe that simply by gaining the 
vote, women had indeed become men’s equals. 56 

Twentieth-Century Action: 

Equal Rights 

For nearly forty years after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, femi- 
nists went about their work relatively quietly in the United States. Then, 
around I960, a rebellious generation of feminists loudly proclaimed as fact 
what the suffragists Stanton and Anthony had always suspected: In order to 
be fully liberated, women need economic opportunities and sexual freedoms 
as well as civil liberties. Like their grandmothers, some of these young 



24 Chapter 1: Liberal Feminism 


women pushed a reformist, liberal agenda, whereas others forwarded a more 
revolutionary, radical program of action. 

By the mid-1960s, most liberal feminists had joined an emerging 
women’s rights group, such as the National Organization for Women 
(NOW), the National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC), or the Women’s 
Equity Action League (WEAL). The general purpose of these groups was to 
improve women’s status “by applying legal, social, and other pressures upon 
institutions ranging from the Bell Telephone Company to television networks 
to the major political parties.” 57 In contrast, most radical feminists had banded 
together in one or another women’s liberation groups. Much smaller and more 
personally focused than the liberal women’s rights groups, these radical 
women’s liberation groups aimed to increase women’s consciousness about 
women’s oppression. The groups’ spirit was that of the revolutionary new left, 
whose goal was not to reform what they regarded as an elitist, capitalistic, com- 
petitive, individualistic system, but to replace it with an egalitarian, socialistic, 
cooperative, communitarian, sisterhood-is-powerful system. Among the largest 
of these radical women’s liberation groups were the Women’s International Ter- 
rorist Conspiracy from Hell (WITCH), the Redstockings, the Feminists, and 
the New York Radical Feminists. Although Maren Lockwood Carden correcdy 
noted in her 1 974 book, The New Feminist Movement, that the ideological 
contrasts between the women’s rights and women’s liberation groups of the 
1960s had blurred by the mid-1970s, 58 women’s rights groups still remained 
less revolutionary than women’s liberation groups. 

Because this chapter is about liberal feminists, I reserve discussion of radi- 
cal women’s liberation groups to Chapter 2. Here I appropriately concentrate 
on the history of twentieth-century liberal womens rights groups and their 
activities, most of which have been in the area of legislation. Between the pas- 
sage of the Nineteenth Amendment and the advent of the second wave of 
U.S. feminism during the 1960s, only two official feminist groups — the 
National Woman’s Party and the National Federation of Business and Profes- 
sional Women’s Clubs (BPW) — promulgated women’s rights. Despite their 
efforts, however, discrimination against women did not end, largely because 
the importance of women’s rights had not yet been impressed on the con- 
sciousness (and conscience) of the bulk of the U.S. population. This state of 
affairs changed with the eruption of the civil rights movement. Sensitized to 
the myriad ways in which U.S. systems, structures, and laws oppressed blacks, 
those active in or at least sympathetic toward the civil rights movement were 
able to see analogies between discrimination against blacks and discrimina- 
tion against women. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the 
Commission on the Status of Women, which produced much new data about 



Twentieth-Century Action: Equal Rights 25 


women and resulted in the formation of the Citizens’ Advisory Council, vari- 
ous state commissions on the status of women, and the passage of the Equal 
Pay Act. When Congress passed the 1 964 Civil Rights Act — amended with 
the Title VII provision to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex as well as 
race, color, religion, or national origin by private employers, employment 
agencies, and unions — a woman shouted from the congressional gallery: “We 
made it! God bless America!” 59 Unfortunately, this woman’s jubilation and 
that of women in general was short-lived; the courts were reluctant to enforce 
Title VII’s “sex amendment.” Feeling betrayed by the system, women’s joy 
turned to anger, an anger that feminist activists used to mobilize women to 
fight for their civil rights with the same passion blacks had fought for theirs. 

Among these feminist activists was Betty Friedan, one of the founders 
and first president of the National Organization for Women (NOW). 
Friedan reflected on how she and some of her associates had reacted to the 
courts’ refusal to take Title VII’s “sex amendment” seriously: “The ab- 
solute necessity for a civil rights movement for women had reached such a 
point of subterranean explosive urgency by 1966, that it only took a few 
of us to get together to ignite the spark — and it spread like a nuclear chain 
reaction.” 60 

The “spark” to which Friedan pointed was the formation of NOW, the 
first explicitly feminist group in the United States in the twentieth cen- 
tury to challenge sex discrimination in all spheres of life: social, political, 
economic, and personal. After considerable behind-the-scenes maneuver- 
ing, Friedan — then viewed as a home-breaker because of her controversial 
book, The Feminine Mystique (see the next section for discussion) — was 
elected NOW’s first president in 1966 by its three hundred charter mem- 
bers, male and female. 

Although NOW’s first members included radical and conservative femi- 
nists as well as liberal feminists, it quickly became clear that NOW’s essential 
identity and agenda were fundamentally liberal. For example, the aim of 
NOW’s 1967 Bill of Rights for Women was to secure for women the same 
rights men have. NOW demanded the following for women: 

I. That the U.S. Congress immediately pass the Equal Rights Amendment 
to the Constitution to provide that “Equality of rights under the law shall not 
be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” 
and that such then be immediately ratified by the several States. 

II. That equal employment opportunity be guaranteed to all women, as 
well as men, by insisting that the Equal Employment Opportunity Com- 
mission enforces the prohibitions against racial discrimination. 



26 Chapter 1: Liberal Feminism 


III. That women be protected by law to ensure their rights to return to 
their jobs within a reasonable time after childbirth without the loss of sen- 
iority or other accrued benefits, and be paid maternity leave as a form of 
social security and/or employee benefit. 

IV. Immediate revision of tax laws to permit the deduction of home 
and child-care expenses for working parents. 

V. That child-care facilities be established by law on the same basis as 
parks, libraries, and public schools, adequate to the needs of children from 
the pre-school years through adolescence, as a community resource to be 
used by all citizens from all income levels. 

VI. That the right of women to be educated to their full potential 
equally with men be secured by Federal and State legislation, eliminating all 
discrimination and segregation by sex, written and unwritten, at all levels of 
education, including colleges, graduate and professional schools, loans and 
fellowships, and Federal and State training programs such as the Job Corps. 

VII. The right of women in poverty to secure job training, housing, and 
family allowances on equal terms with men, but without prejudice to a 
parent’s right to remain at home to care for his or her children; revision of 
welfare legislation and poverty programs which deny women dignity, pri- 
vacy, and self-respect. 

VIII. The right of women to control their own reproductive lives by re- 
moving from the penal code laws limiting access to contraceptive informa- 
tion and devices, and by repealing penal laws governing abortion. 61 

NOW’s list of demands pleased the organization’s liberal members but 
made both its conservative and radical members angry, albeit for different 
reasons. Whereas conservative members objected to the push for permissive 
contraception and abortion laws, radical members were angered by NOW’s 
failure to support women’s sexual rights, particularly the right to choose 
between heterosexual, bisexual, and lesbian lifestyles. Missing from NOW’s 
1 967 Bill of Rights was any mention of important women’s issues such as 
domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, and pornography. 62 

Although Friedan acknowledged that “the sex-role debate . . . cannot be 
avoided if equal opportunity in employment, education and civil rights are 
ever to mean more than paper rights,” 63 she still insisted “that the gut issues 
of this revolution involve employment and education and new social institu- 
tions and not sexual fantasy.” 64 Worried that NOW would change its tradi- 
tional liberal focus to a more radical one, Friedan was among those who 
most strongly opposed public support of lesbianism by NOW. Allegedly, she 
termed NOW’s lesbian members a “lavender menace,” 65 since, as she saw it, 
they alienated mainstream society from feminists in general. 



Tiventieth-Century Thought: Sameness Versus Difference 27 


Friedan’s concerns about the “lavender menace” notwithstanding, NOW 
eventually endorsed four resolutions forwarded by “the lavender menace,” 
the Gay Liberation Front Women and Radical Lesbians. The resolutions, 
presented at NOW’s 1970 Congress to Unite Women, read: 

1 . Women’s Liberation is a lesbian plot. 

2. Whenever the label lesbian is used against the movement collectively 
or against women individually, it is to be affirmed, not denied. 

3. In all discussions of birth control, homosexuality must be included as 
a legitimate method of contraception. 

4. All sex education curricula must include lesbianism as a valid, legitimate 
form of sexual expression and love. 66 

Moreover, NOW began to stress that its aim was to serve not only the 
women most likely to survive and thrive in the system but any woman 
who believes women’s rights should be equal to men’s. Beginning with the 
1971 presidency of Arlein Fternandez, a Flispanic woman, a diverse array 
of minority and lesbian women (including Patricia Ireland, president of 
NOW from 1993 to 2001) assumed leadership as well as membership 
roles in NOW. 67 The organization’s greater attention to women’s differ- 
ences meant its members could no longer claim to know what all women 
want but only what specific groups of women want. Increasingly, the intel- 
lectual energies of NOW as well as other women’s rights groups became 
focused on the implications of the so-called sameness-difference debate: Is 
gender equality best achieved by stressing women’s oneness as a gender or 
their diversity as individuals, the similarities between women and men or 
the differences between them? To this day, the many answers to this ques- 
tion continue to shape and reshape NOW’s political agenda. 

Twentieth-Century Thought: 

Sameness Versus Difference 

It is instructive to reflect upon Betty Friedan’s career as a writer not only 
because of her identification with NOW but also because of her own evolu- 
tion as a thinker who first took it for granted that all women are the same and 
who then came to quite a different conclusion. Like most contemporary lib- 
eral feminists, Friedan gradually accepted both the radical feminist critique 
that liberal feminists are prone to co-optation by the “male establishment” 
and the conservative feminist critique that liberal feminists are out of touch 
with the bulk of U.S. women who hold the institutions of marriage, mother- 
hood, and the family in high regard. When she wrote her 1963 classic, The 



28 Chapter 1: Liberal Feminism 


Feminine Mystique, 69, Friedan seemed oblivious to any other perspectives than 
those of white, middle-class, heterosexual, educated women who found the 
traditional roles of wife and mother unsatisfying. She wrote that in lieu of 
more meaningful goals, these women spent too much time cleaning their al- 
ready tidy homes, improving their already attractive appearances, and in- 
dulging their already spoiled children. 69 Focusing on this unappealing picture 
of family life in affluent U.S. suburbs, Friedan concluded that contemporary 
women needed to find meaningful work in the full-time, public workforce. 
Wives’ and mothers’ partial absence from home would enable husbands and 
children to become more self-sufficient people, capable of cooking their own 
meals and doing their own laundry. 70 

Although Friedan had little patience for obsequious wives and doting moth- 
ers, she did not, as some critics thought, demand women sacrifice marriage and 
motherhood for a high-powered career. On the contrary, she believed a woman 
could have a loving family as well: “The assumption of your own identity, 
equality, and even political power does not mean you stop needing to love, and 
be loved by, a man, or that you stop caring for your own kids.” 71 In Friedan’s 
estimation, the error in the feminine mystique was not that it valued marriage 
and motherhood but that it overvalued these two institutions. To think that a 
woman who is a wife and mother has no time for a full-time, professional 
career is to limit her development as a full human person, said Friedan. As 
soon as a woman sees housework for what it is — something to get out of the 
way, to be done “quickly and efficiendy” — and sees marriage and motherhood 
for what it is, a part of her life but not all of it, she will find plenty of time and 
energy to develop her total self in “creative work” outside the home. 72 With 
just a bit of help, any woman, like any man, can meet all of her personal obli- 
gations and thereby become free to assume significant roles and responsibilities 
in the public world, reasoned Friedan. 

In critics’ estimation, The Feminine Mystique explained well enough why 
marriage and motherhood are not enough for a certain kind of woman. But 
as the critics saw it, the book failed to address a host of issues deeper than 
“the problem that has no name” — Friedan’s tag for the dissatisfaction sup- 
posedly felt by suburban, white, educated, middle-class, heterosexual house- 
wives in the United States. In particular, The Feminine Mystique misjudged 
just how difficult it would be for even privileged women to combine a career 
with marriage and motherhood unless major structural changes were made 
both within and outside the family. Like Wollstonecraft, Taylor, and Mill 
before her, Friedan sent women out into the public realm without summon- 
ing men into the private domain to pick up their fair share of the slack. 



Tiventieth-Century Thought: Sameness Versus Difference 29 


By the time she wrote The Second Stage about twenty years after The Femi- 
nine Mystique, Friedan had come to see that her critics were right. Often it is 
very difficult for a woman to combine marriage, motherhood, and full-time 
work outside the home. Observing the ways in which some members of her 
daughter’s generation ran themselves ragged in the name of feminism — trying 
to be full-time career women as well as full-time housewives and mothers — 
Friedan concluded that 1980s “superwomen” were no less oppressed (albeit for 
different reasons) than their 1960s “stay-at-home” mothers had been. Increas- 
ingly, she urged feminists to ask themselves whether women either can or 
should try to meet not simply one but two standards of perfection: the one set 
in the workplace by traditional men, who had wives to take care of all their non- 
workplace needs, and the one set in the home by traditional women, whose 
whole sense of worth, power, and mastery came from being ideal housewives 
and mothers. 74 

Friedan’s own answer to the question she posed was that women needed to 
stop trying both to “do it all” and to “be it all.” She insisted, however, that the 
proper cure for the superwoman syndrome was not simply to renounce love in 
favor of work, or vice versa. On the contrary, said Friedan, women who chose 
either work or love often told her they regretted their decision. For example, 
one woman who renounced marriage and motherhood for a full-time career 
confessed to Friedan: “I was the first woman in management here. I gave every- 
thing to the job. It was exciting at first, breaking in where women never were 
before. Now it’s just a job. But it’s the devastating loneliness that’s the worst. I 
can’t stand coming back to this apartment alone every night. I’d like a house, 
maybe a garden. Maybe I should have a kid, even without a father. At least 
then I’d have a family. There has to be some better way to live.” 75 Another 
woman who made the opposite choice, forsaking job for family, admitted to 
Friedan: 

It makes me mad — makes me feel like a child — when I have to ask my hus- 
band for money. My mother was always dependent on my father and so 
fearful of life. She is lost now without him. It frightens me, the thought of 
being dependent like my mother, though I have a very happy marriage. I 
get so upset, listening to battered wives on television, women with no op- 
tions. It improves your sense of self-worth when you don’t depend on your 
husband for everything good in life, when you can get it for yourself. I’m 
trying so hard to treat my daughter equally with my son. I don’t want her to 
have the fears that paralyzed my mother and that I’ve always had to fight. I 
want her to have real options. 76 



30 Chapter 1: Liberal Feminism 


Rather than despairing over these and other women’s choices, Friedan 
used them as talking points to convince 1980s feminists to move from what 
she termed first-stage feminism to what she labeled second-stage feminism. 
She noted this new form of feminism would require women to work with 
men to escape the excesses of th e, feminist mystique, “which denied the core 
of women’s personhood that is fulfilled through love, nurture, home” as well 
as the excesses of the feminine mystique, “which defined women solely in 
terms of their relation to men as wives, mothers and homemakers.” 77 
Together, women and men might be able to develop the kind of social val- 
ues, leadership styles, and institutional structures needed to permit both 
sexes to achieve fulfillment in the public and private world alike. 

Friedan’s program for reigniting the women’s movement was, as we shall see, 
vulnerable to several attacks. For example, it inadequately challenged the 
assumption that women are “responsible for the private life of their family 
members.” 78 Zillah Eisenstein criticized Friedan’s support of so-called flextime 
(an arrangement that permits employees to set their starting and leaving 
hours): “It is never clear whether this arrangement is supposed to ease women’s 
double burden (of family and work) or significandy restructure who is respon- 
sible for childcare and how this responsibility is carried out.” 79 Suspecting that 
women rather than men would use flextime to mesh their workday with their 
children’s school day, Eisenstein worried that flextime would give employers 
yet another reason to devalue female employees as less committed to their work 
than male employees. 

In all fairness to Friedan, however, she did explicitly mention in The Sec- 
ond Stage (written after Eisenstein’s critique of Friedan) that when an 
arrangement like flextime is described as a structural change permitting 
mothers to better care for their children, the wrongheaded idea that home 
and family are womens sole responsibility rather than womens and men’s joint 
responsibility is reinforced. 80 Unlike the Friedan of The Feminine Mystique, 
the Friedan of The Second Stage seemed quite aware that unless women’s 
assimilation into the public world is coupled with the simultaneous assimila- 
tion of men into the private world, women will always have to work harder 
than men. Although Friedan conceded that most men might not be ready, 
willing, or able to embrace the “househusband” role, she nonetheless insisted 
it is just as important for men to develop their private and personal selves as 
it is for women to develop their public and social selves. Men who realize this 
also realize women’s liberation is men’s liberation. A man does not have to be 
“just a breadwinner” 81 or just a runner in the rat race. Like his wife, he, too, 
can be an active participant in the thick web of familial and friendship rela- 
tionships he and she weave together. 82 



Tiventieth-Century Thought: Sameness Versus Difference 31 


In some ways, the difference between the Friedan of The Feminine Mys- 
tique and the Friedan of The Second Stage is the difference between a feminist 
who believes women need to be the same as men in order to be equal to men 
and a feminist who believes women can be men’s equals, provided society val- 
ues the “feminine” as much as the “masculine.” The overall message of The 
Feminine Mystique was that women’s liberation hinged on women becoming 
like men. Friedan peppered the pages of The Feminine Mystique with com- 
ments such as: “If an able American woman does not use her human energy 
and ability in some meaningful pursuit (which necessarily means competi- 
tion, for there is competition in every serious pursuit of our society), she will 
fritter away her energy in neurotic symptoms, or unproductive exercise, or 
destructive ‘love,’” and “Perhaps men may live longer in America when 
women carry more of the burden of the battle with the world instead of being 
a burden themselves. I think their wasted energy will continue to be destruc- 
tive to their husbands, to their children, and to themselves until it is used in 
their own batde with the world.” 83 To be a full human being is, in short, to 
think and act like a man. 

Eighteen years after the publication of The Feminine Mystique, Friedan’s 
message to women had substantially changed. In The Second Stage, she de- 
scribed as culturally feminine the so-called beta styles of thinking and acting, 
which emphasize “fluidity, flexibility and interpersonal sensitivity,” and as cul- 
turally masculine the so-called alpha styles of thinking and acting, which stress 
“hierarchical, authoritarian, strictly task-oriented leadership based on instru- 
mental, technological rationality.” 84 Rather than offering 1980s women the 
same advice she had offered 1960s women — namely, minimize your feminine, 
beta tendencies and maximize your masculine, alpha tendencies — Friedan 
counseled 1980s women to embrace feminine, beta styles. Having convinced 
herself that women did not need to deny their differences from men to achieve 
equality with men, Friedan urged 1980s women to stop “aping the accepted 
dominant Alpha mode of established movements and organizations” and start 
using their “Beta intuitions” to solve the social, political, and economic prob- 
lems that threaten humankind. 85 The challenge of the second stage of femi- 
nism, insisted Friedan, was for women (and men) to replace the “win-or-lose, 
do-or-die method of the hunter or the warrior” with the kind of thinking 
“women developed in the past as they dealt on a day-to-day basis with small 
problems and relationships in the family, mostly without thinking about it in 
the abstract.” 86 Only then would the world’s citizens realize their very survival 
depends on replacing competitive strategies with cooperative initiatives. 

Given the foregoing analysis, it is not surprising that Friedan later claimed 
gender-specific laws rather than general-neutral laws are better able to secure 



32 Chapter 1: Liberal Feminism 


equality between the sexes. In 1986, she joined a coalition supporting a Cali- 
fornia law requiring employers to grant as much as four months’ unpaid leave 
to women disabled by pregnancy or childbirth. In taking this stand, she alien- 
ated the NOW members who believed that to treat men and women equally 
should mean to treat them in the same way. If men should not receive special 
treatment on account of their sex, then neither should women. According to 
Friedan, this line of reasoning, which she herself pressed in the 1960s, is mis- 
guided. It asks the law to treat women as “male clones,” when in fact “there 
has to be a concept of equality that takes into account that women are the 
ones who have the babies.” 87 

If the Friedan of the 1980s is right, then the task of liberal feminists is to 
determine not what liberty and equality are for abstract, rational persons but 
what liberty and equality are for concrete men and women. To be sure, this is 
a difficult task. Among others, Rosalind Rosenberg advised liberal feminists: 
“If women as a group are allowed special benefits, you open up the group to 
charges that it is inferior. But, if we deny all differences, as the women’s 
movement has so often done, you deflect attention from the disadvantages 
women labor under.” 88 Rosenberg’s cautionary words raise many questions. 
Is there really a way to treat women and men both differently and equally 
without falling into some version of the pernicious separate-but-equal 
approach that characterized race relations in the United States until the early 
1960s? Or, should liberal feminists work toward the elimination of male- 
female differences as the first step toward true equality? If so, should women 
become like men in order to be equal with men? Or should men become like 
women in order to be equal with women? Or finally, should both men and 
women become androgynous, each person combining the same “correct” 
blend of positive masculine and feminine characteristics in order to be equal 
with every other person? 

To the degree that The Feminine Mystique advised women to become like 
men, The Second Stage urged women to be like women. But The Second Stage 
did more than this. It also encouraged men and women alike to work toward an 
androgynous future in which all human beings manifest both traditionally mas- 
culine and traditionally feminine traits. Once she decided that androgyny was 
in all human beings’ best interests, Friedan stayed committed to her vision. 
Indeed, she devoted many pages of her third major book, The Fountain of Age, 
to singing androgyny’s praises. Specifically, she urged aging alpha men to de- 
velop their passive, nurturing, or contemplative feminine qualities, and aging 
beta women to develop their bold, assertive, commanding, or adventurous mas- 
culine qualities. 89 Insisting that people over fifty should explore their “other 
side” — whether masculine or feminine — Friedan noted that women over fifty 



Tiventieth-Century Thought: Sameness Versus Difference 33 


who go back to school or work or who become actively engaged in the public 
world report the fifty-plus years as being the best ones of their lives. Similarly, 
men over fifty who start focusing on the quality of their personal relationships 
and interior lives report a similar kind of satisfaction in older age. Unfortu- 
nately, added Friedan, the number of men who age well is far smaller than the 
number of women who age well. In our society, there are simply more opportu- 
nities for older women to develop their masculine traits than there are for older 
men to develop their feminine traits. If a man has neglected his wife and chil- 
dren for years because he has made work his first priority, by the time he is ready 
to attend to his personal relationships, these relationships may be extremely 
troubled. As a result, he may decide to seek a new wife with whom to have a sec- 
ond family — repeating the activities of his youth in the hope of “getting it right” 
this time. Worried about the left-behind “old wife” and “first family,” Friedan 
urged aging men to find ways of loving and working that differed from the ways 
they loved and worked as twenty-, thirty-, or forty-year-olds. 

The overall message of The Fountain of Age is that the people most likely 
to grow, change, and become more fully themselves as they age are precisely 
those people who move beyond polarized sex roles and creatively develop 
whichever side of themselves they neglected to develop as young men and 
women. In short, the happiest and most vital old men and women are an- 
drogynous persons. 

The more she focused on the idea of androgyny, the more Friedan seemed 
to move toward humanism and away from feminism, however. Increasingly, 
she described feminist “sexual politics” as the “no-win battle of women as a 
whole sex, oppressed victims, against men as a whole sex, the oppressors.” 90 
In addition, she urged women to join with men to create a “new [human] 
politics that must emerge beyond reaction.” 91 Eventually, Friedan claimed 
that because “human wholeness” is the true “promise of feminism,” feminists 
should move beyond a focus on womens issues (issues related to women’s 
reproductive and sexual roles, rights, and responsibilities) in order to work 
with men on “the concrete, practical, everyday problems of living, working 
and loving as equal persons.” 92 

In a shift that appears to be more than mere coincidence, NOW’s focus 
has also moved in the “human” direction suggested by Friedan, a trend that 
has brought NOW and its first president under concerted attack by radical 
feminists in particular. In contrast to Friedan and many liberal members of 
NOW, radical feminists doubt feminism can move beyond “women’s issues” 
and still remain feminism. They claim that as long as our culture’s under- 
standing of what it means to be a human being remains androcentric (male- 
centered), it is premature for feminists to become humanists. 



34 Chapter 1: Liberal Feminism 


To be sure, Friedan was not the first liberal feminist who found human- 
ism attractive. In their own distinct ways, Wollstonecraft, Taylor, and Mill 
each wanted personhood, full membership in the human community for 
women. The hypothesis that the ends and aims of feminism may, after all, be 
identical with those of humanism is a controversial one but worth keeping in 
mind as we consider recent trends in liberal feminism. 

Contemporary Directions in Liberal Feminism 

Betty Friedan is just one of thousands of women who may be classified as liberal 
feminists. As Zillah Eisenstein noted, Elizabeth Holtzman, Bella Abzug, 
Eleanor Smeal, Pat Schroeder, and Patsy Mink are liberal feminists, as are many 
other leaders and members of NOW and the Women’s Equity Action League. 93 
Although these women are sometimes divided on specific issues related to 
women, they do agree that the single most important goal of womens liberation 
is sexual equality, or, as it is sometimes termed, gender justice. 

Liberal feminists wish to free women from oppressive gender roles — that 
is, from those roles used as excuses or justifications for giving women a lesser 
place, or no place at all, in the academy, the forum, and the marketplace. 
These feminists stress that patriarchal society conflates sex and gender , 94 
deeming appropriate for women only those jobs associated with the tradi- 
tional feminine personality. Thus, in the United States, for example, women 
are pushed into jobs like nursing, teaching, and childcare, while they are 
steered away from jobs in business, science, technology, engineering, and 
mathematics. In addition, legislation specifically barring women from such 
“masculine” jobs as mining and firefighting or preventing women from 
working the night shift or overtime is not exactly a distant memory. To be 
sure, de jure gender discrimination in the workplace is relatively rare nowa- 
days. But de facto gender discrimination in the workplace remains all too 
prevalent. Faced with a choice between male or female candidates for certain 
jobs, many employers still prefer to hire men for particularly demanding po- 
sitions on the grounds that women are more likely than men to let their fam- 
ily responsibilities interfere with their job commitment and performance. 

It is sometimes argued that men, no less than women, are also the victims of 
de facto gender discrimination — that even if the law has always been kind to 
men, other vehicles of social control have not. Thus, men’s liberation activists 
complain about parents who never hire male babysitters and about nursery 
schools that prefer to fill their staff positions with women. Although liberal 
feminists sympathize with men who find it difficult to pursue child-centered 
careers because of de facto gender discrimination, they still think the kind of de 



Contemporary Directions in Liberal Feminism 35 


facto gender discrimination men experience is not nearly as systematic as the 
kind that women experience. Society remains structured in ways that favor 
men and disfavor women in the competitive race for power, prestige, and 
money. The fact that, as of 2005, U.S. women still earned only seventy-two 
cents for every dollar men earned is not an accident. 95 Although women some- 
times earn less than men because they freely choose to work less hard or fewer 
hours than men do, more often, women’s salaries are lower than men’s because 
society expects women to make their families their first priority. If a dual-career 
couple has a child, an aging parent, or an ailing relative in need of care, chances 
are that the female member of the couple will be the person who slows down 
or gives up her career to lend a helping hand. 

In their discussions of the structural and attitudinal impediments to 
women’s progress, contemporary liberal feminists often disagree about how 
to handle these hurdles. There are two types of liberal feminists: classical and 
welfare. Like classical liberals in general, classical liberal feminists favor lim- 
ited government and a free market. They also view political and legal rights 
as particularly important. Freedom of expression, religion, and conscience 
play a major role in the psyches of classical liberal feminists. In contrast, wel- 
fare liberal feminists are like welfare liberals in general. Welfare liberals think 
government should provide citizens, especially underprivileged ones, with 
housing, education, health care, and social security. Moreover, they think the 
market should be limited by means of significant taxes and curbs on profits. 
For welfare liberal feminists, social and economic rights are the condition of 
possibility for the exercise of political and legal rights. 

One way to better understand the difference between classical liberal femi- 
nists and welfare liberal feminists is to focus on a concrete issue such as affirma- 
tive action policy. Classical liberal feminists believe that after discriminatory 
laws and policies have been removed from the books, thereby formally enabling 
women to compete equally with men, not much else can be done about “birds 
of a feather flocking together” — about male senior professors, for example, 
being more favorably disposed toward a male candidate for a faculty position 
than toward an equally qualified female candidate. In contrast, welfare liberal 
feminists urge society to break up that “old flock (gang) of mine,” especially 
when failure to make feathers fly results in asymmetrical gender ratios such as 
the one that characterized Flarvard University’s senior arts and sciences faculty 
in the early 1970s: 483 men, zero women. 96 Specifically, they advocate that 
female applicants to both schools and jobs either be (1) selected over equally 
qualified white male applicants (so-called affirmative action) or, more contro- 
versially, (2) selected over better qualified white male applicants, provided the fe- 
male applicants are still able to perform adequately (so-called preferential 



36 Chapter 1: Liberal Feminism 


treatment). 97 Welfare liberal feminists insist that to the degree such policies are 
viewed as temporary, they do not constitute reverse discrimination. As soon as 
men and women have equal social status and economic clout, there will be no 
need for either affirmative action or preferential treatment policies. Indeed, 
when women achieve de facto as well as de jure equality with men, policies 
advantaging women over men would be markedly unfair. 

We may think the only meaningful liberal feminist approaches to combat- 
ing gender discrimination are the classical and welfare approaches, both of 
which rely heavily on legal remedies. But as noted earlier, in the analysis of 
Betty Friedan’s writings, another approach to combating gender discrimina- 
tion uses the ideal of androgyny to counteract society’s traditional tendency to 
value masculine traits or men more than feminine traits or women. If society 
encouraged everyone to develop both positive masculine and positive femi- 
nine traits, then no one would have reason to think less of women than of 
men. Discrimination on the bases of gender and biological sex would cease. 

Clearly, discussions of sex differences, gender roles, and androgyny have 
helped focus liberal feminists’ drive toward liberty, equality, and fairness for 
all. According to Jane English, terms such as sex roles and gender traits denote 
“the patterns of behavior which the two sexes are socialized, encouraged, or 
coerced into adopting, ranging from ‘sex- appropriate’ personalities to inter- 
ests and professions.” 98 Boys are instructed to be masculine, girls to be femi- 
nine. Psychologists, anthropologists, and sociologists tend to define the 
“masculine” and “feminine” in terms of prevailing cultural stereotypes, which 
are influenced by racial, class, and ethnic factors. Thus, to be masculine in 
middle-class, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant United States is, among other 
things, to be rational, ambitious, and independent, and to be feminine is, 
among other things, to be emotional, nurturant, and dependent. To be sure, 
even within this segment of the population, exceptions to the rule will be 
found. Some biological males will manifest feminine gender traits, and some 
biological females will manifest masculine gender traits. But these individu- 
als will be deemed exceptional or deviant. No matter what group of people 
(e.g., working-class Italian Catholics) is under scrutiny, then, gender-role 
stereotyping will limit the individual’s possibilities for development as a 
unique self. The woman who displays characteristics her social group regards 
as masculine will be viewed as less than a real woman; the man who shows 
so-called feminine traits will be considered less than a real man. 99 

In order to liberate women and men from the culturally constructed cages 
of masculinity and femininity, many liberal feminists besides Betty Friedan 
advocate the formation of androgynous personalities. 100 Some liberal femi- 
nists favor monoandrogyny — the development of an ideal personality type 



Critiques of Liberal Feminism 37 


that embodies the best of prevailing masculine and feminine gender traits. 101 
According to psychologist Sandra Bern, the monoandrogynous person pos- 
sesses a full complement of traditional female qualities — nurturance, compas- 
sion, tenderness, sensitivity, affiliation, cooperativeness — along with a full 
complement of traditional male qualities — aggressiveness, leadership, initia- 
tive, competitiveness. 102 (Recall that this list of traditional qualities probably 
needs to be modified, depending on the racial, class, and ethnic characteristics 
of the group under consideration.) Other liberal feminists resist monoandrog- 
yny and instead advocate polyandrogyny — the development of multiple per- 
sonality types, some of which are totally masculine, others totally feminine, 
and still others a mixture. 103 Whether liberal feminists espouse monoandrog- 
yny or polyandrogyny, however, they tend to agree a person’s biological sex 
should not determine his or her psychological and social gender. 

Critiques of Liberal Feminism 

In recent years, nonliberal feminists have increasingly dismissed liberal femi- 
nists. These critics claim that the main tenets of liberal feminist thought (all 
human persons are rational and free, share fundamental rights, and are equal) 
do not necessarily advance all women’s interests. At best, they advance the inter- 
ests of only certain kinds of women — namely, privileged women who, because 
of their privilege, think and act like men. Because the critiques leveled against 
liberal feminism are quite harsh, we need to carefully assess their merit. 

Critique One: 

Reason, Freedom, and Autonomy Are Not As Good As They Sound 

In Feminist Politics and Human Nature, Alison Jaggar formulated a powerful cri- 
tique of liberal feminism. She claimed that the rational, free, and autonomous 
self that liberals favor is not neutral between the sexes. On the contrary, it is a 
“male” self. 

Realizing that not everyone would understand why a rational, free, and 
autonomous self is “male,” Jaggar carefully defended her point. She first 
noted that because liberals, including liberal feminists, locate human beings’ 
“specialness” in human rationality and autonomy, liberals are so-called nor- 
mative dualists — thinkers committed to the view that the functions and 
activities of the mind are somehow better than those of the body. 104 Eating, 
drinking, excreting, sleeping, and reproducing are not, according to this 
view, quintessential human activities, because members of most other animal 
species also engage in them. Instead, what sets human beings apart from the 



38 Chapter 1: Liberal Feminism 


rest of animal creation is their capacity to think, reason, calculate, wonder, 
imagine, and comprehend. 

Jaggar then speculated that because of the original sexual division of la- 
bor, mental activities and functions were increasingly emphasized over 
bodily activities and functions in Western liberal thought. Given men’s dis- 
tance from nature, their undemanding reproductive and domestic roles, 
and the amount of time they were consequently able to spend cultivating 
the life of the mind, men tended to devalue the body, regarding it as a pro- 
tective shell whose contours had little to do with their self-definition. In 
contrast, given women’s close ties to nature, their heavy reproductive and 
domestic roles, and the amount of time they consequently had to spend 
caring for people’s bodies, women tended to value the body, viewing it as 
essential to their personal identity. Because men took over the field of phi- 
losophy early on, observed Jaggar, men’s way of seeing themselves came to 
dominate Western culture’s collective pool of ideas about human nature. 
As a result, all liberals, male or female, nonfeminist or feminist, tend to 
accept as truth the priority of the mental over the bodily, even when their 
own daily experiences contradict this belief. 

Liberal feminists’ adherence to some version of normative dualism is prob- 
lematic for feminism, according to Jaggar, not only because normative dualism 
leads to a devaluation of bodily activities and functions but also because it usu- 
ally leads to both political solipsism and political skepticism. (Political solipsism 
is the belief that the rational, autonomous person is essentially isolated, with 
needs and interests separate from, and even in opposition to, those of every 
other individual. Political skepticism is the belief that the fundamental ques- 
tions of political philosophy — what constitutes human well-being and fulfill- 
ment, and what are the means to attain it? — have no common answer.) Thus, 
the result of valuing the mind over the body and the independence of the self 
from others is the creation of a politics that puts an extraordinary premium on 
liberty — on the rational, autonomous, independent, self-determining, isolated, 
separated, unique person’s ability to think, do, and be whatever he or she deems 
worthy. 105 

Jaggar criticized political solipsism on empirical grounds, noting it makes 
little sense to think of individuals as somehow existing prior to the formation 
of community through some sort of contract. She observed, for example, that 
any pregnant woman knows a child is related to others (at least to her) even 
before it is born. The baby does not — indeed could not — exist as a lonely 
atom prior to subsequent entrance into the human community. Human 
infants are born helpless and require great care for many years. She explained 
that because this care cannot be adequately provided by a single adult, 



Critiques of Liberal Feminism 39 


humans live in social groups that cooperatively bring offspring to maturity: 
“Human interdependence is . . . necessitated by human biology, and the as- 
sumption of individual self-sufficiency is plausible only if one ignores human 
biology.” 106 Thus, Jaggar insisted, liberal political theorists need to explain not 
how and why isolated individuals come together but how and why communi- 
ties dissolve. Competition, not cooperation, is the anomaly. 

To add force to her empirical argument, Jaggar observed that political 
solipsism makes no sense conceptually. Here she invoked Naomi Scheman’s 
point that political solipsism requires belief in abstract individualism. 107 The 
abstract individual is one whose emotions, beliefs, abilities, and interests can 
supposedly be articulated and understood without any reference whatsoever 
to social context. Kant’s person is this type of abstract individual — a pure 
reason unaffected/uninfected by either the empirical-psychological ego or 
the empirical-biological body. However, Kant’s philosophy notwithstanding, 
said Scheman, we are not abstract individuals. We are instead concrete indi- 
viduals able to identify certain of our physiological sensations as ones of sor- 
row, for example, only because we are “embedded in a social web of 
interpretation that serves to give meaning” 108 to our twitches and twinges, 
our moans and groans, our squealing and screaming. Apart from this inter- 
pretative grid, we are literally self-less — that is, our very identities are deter- 
mined by our socially constituted wants and desires. We are, fundamentally, 
the selves our communities create, an observation that challenges the U.S. 
myth of the self-sufficient individual. 

Political skepticism collapses together with political solipsism according to 
Jaggar, for political skepticism also depends on an overly abstract and indi- 
vidualistic conception of the self. In contrast to the liberals or liberal femi- 
nists who insist the state should refrain from privileging any one conception 
of human well-being over another, Jaggar argued that the state should serve 
as more than a traffic cop who, without commenting on drivers’ stated desti- 
nations, merely makes sure their cars do not collide. Whether we like it or 
not, she said, human biology and psychology dictate a set of basic human 
needs, and societies that treat these basic needs as optional cannot expect to 
survive, let alone to thrive. Thus, said Jaggar, the state must do more than 
keep traffic moving; it must also block off certain roads even if some individ- 
uals want to travel down them. 

Defenders of liberal feminism challenge Jaggar’s and Scheman’s critique of 
liberal feminism on the grounds that the liberalism of liberal feminists is not 
the same as the liberalism of liberal nonfeminists. In what she termed a quali- 
fied defense of liberal feminism, Susan Wendell stressed that liberal feminists 
are not fundamentally committed either to separating the rational from the 



40 Chapter 1: Liberal Feminism 


emotional or to valuing the former over the latter. On the contrary, they seem 
fully aware that reason and emotion, mind and body, are “equally necessary to 
human survival and the richness of human experience.” 109 Indeed, observed 
Wendell, if liberal feminists lacked a conception of the self as an integrated 
whole, we would be hard pressed to explain their tendency to view androgyny 
as a positive state of affairs. For the most part, liberal feminists want their sons 
to develop a wide range of emotional responses and domestic skills as much as 
they want their daughters to develop an equally wide range of rational capaci- 
ties and professional talents. Complete human beings are both rational and 
emotional. Thus, Wendell urged critics to read liberal feminist texts more 
sympathetically, as “a philosophically better kind of liberalism” 110 and to over- 
come the misconception that “[a] commitment to the value of individuals 
and their self-development, or even to the ethical priority of individuals over 
groups,” is automatically a commitment “to narcissism or egoism or to the be- 
lief that one’s own most important characteristics are somehow independent 
of one’s relationships with other people.” 111 Just because a woman refuses to 
spend her whole day nurturing her family does not mean she is more selfish 
than a man who, in the name of professional duty, may spend no time with 
his family. A person is selfish only when he or she takes more than his or her 
fair share of a resource: money, time, or even something intangible like love. 

Critique Two: 

Women as Men f 

Jean Bethke Elshtain, a communitarian political theorist, is even more critical 
of liberal feminism than Alison Jaggar is. Like Jaggar, Elshtain claimed liberal 
feminists are wrong to emphasize individual interests, rights, and personal free- 
dom over the common good, obligations, and social commitment, since “there 
is no way to create real communities out of an aggregate of ‘freely choosing 
adults.” 112 In addition, more so than Jaggar, Elshtain castigated liberal femi- 
nists for putting an apparendy high premium on so-called male values. She 
accused the Friedan of the 1960s — and, to a lesser extent, Wollstonecraft, Mill, 
and Taylor — of equating male being with human being, “manly” virtue with 
human virtue. In her critique “Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?” 
Elshtain identified what she considered liberal feminism’s three major flaws: (1) 
its claim women can become like men if they set their minds to it; (2) its claim 
most women want to become like men; and (3) its claim all women should 
want to become like men, to aspire to masculine values. 

With respect to the first claim, that women can become like men, Elshtain 
pointed to the general liberal feminist belief that male-female differences are 



Critiques of Liberal Feminism 4 1 


the products of culture rather than biology, of nurture rather than nature. 
She claimed liberal feminists refuse to entertain the possibility that some sex 
differences are biologically determined, for fear that affirmative answers 
could be used to justify the repression, suppression, and oppression of 
women. For this reason, many liberal feminists have, in Elshtain’s estimation, 
become “excessive environmentalists,” people who believe that gender iden- 
tities are the nearly exclusive product of socialization, changeable at society’s 
will. 113 

Although she wanted to avoid both the reactionary position of contem- 
porary sociobiologists, according to whom biology is indeed destiny, and 
the sentimental speculations of some nineteenth- and twentieth-century 
feminists — according to whom women are, by nature, morally better than 
men 114 — Elshtain claimed that society cannot erase long-standing male- 
female differences without inflicting violence on people. Unless we wish to 
do what Plato suggested in The Republic, namely, banish everyone over the 
age of twelve and begin an intensive program of centrally controlled and 
uniform socialization from infancy onward, we cannot hope, said Elshtain, 
to eliminate gender differences between men and women in just a few gen- 
erations. In sum, women cannot be like men unless we are prepared to com- 
mit ourselves to the kind of social engineering and behavior modification 
that is incompatible with the spirit, if not also the letter, of liberal law. 115 

Liberal feminism also has a tendency, claimed Elshtain, to overestimate the 
number of women who want to be like men. She dismissed the view that any 
woman who wants more than anything else to be a wife and mother is a 
benighted and befuddled victim of patriarchal “false consciousness.” Patriarchy, 
in Elshtain’s estimation, is simply not powerful enough to make mush out of 
millions of womens minds. If it were, feminists would be unable to provide a 
cogent explanation for the emergence of feminist “true consciousness” out of 
pervasive patriarchal socialization. Elshtain observed that liberal feminists’ 
attempt to reduce “wifing” and “mothering” to mere “roles” is misguided: 

Mothering is not a “role” on par with being a file clerk, a scientist, or a 
member of the Air Force. Mothering is a complicated, rich, ambivalent, 
vexing, joyous activity which is biological, natural, social, symbolic, and 
emotional. It carries profoundly resonant emotional and sexual impera- 
tives. A tendency to downplay the differences that pertain between, say, 
mothering and holding a job, not only drains our private relations of 
much of their significance, but also over-simplifies what can and should 
be done to alter things for women, who are frequently urged to change 
roles in order to solve their problems. 116 



42 Chapter 1: Liberal Feminism 


If, after investing years of physical and emotional energy in being a wife and 
mother, a woman is told she made the wrong choice, that she could have done 
something “significant” with her life instead, her reaction is not likely to be a 
positive one. It is one thing to tell a person he or she should try a new hairstyle; 
it is quite another to advise a person to get a more meaningful destiny. 

Finally, as Elshtain saw it, liberal feminists are wrong to sing “a paean of 
praise to what Americans themselves call the ‘rat race,’” 117 to tell women they 
should absorb traditional masculine values. Articles written for women about 
dressing for success, making it in a man’s world, being careful not to cry in 
public, avoiding intimate friendships, being assertive, and playing hardball 
serve only to erode what may, according to Elshtain, ultimately be the best 
about women; their learned ability to create and sustain community through 
involvement with friends and family. Woman ought to resist membership in 
the “rat race” culture. Rather than encouraging each other to mimic the tradi- 
tional behavior of successful men, who spend a minimum of time at home 
and a maximum of time at the office, women ought to work toward the kind 
of society in which men as well as women have as much time for friends and 
family as for business associates and professional colleagues. 

Although she came close here to forwarding the problematic thesis that 
every wife and mother is the Virgin Mary in disguise, Elshtain insisted 
maternal thinking “need not and must not descend into the sentimental- 
ization that vitiated much Suffragist discourse.” 118 Fearing that full partic- 
ipation in the public sphere would threaten female virtue, the suffragists 
reasoned “the vote” was a way for women to reform the evil, deceitful, and 
ugly public realm without ever having to leave the supposed goodness, 
truth, and beauty of the private realm. As Elshtain saw it, had the suffra- 
gists not constructed a false polarity between male vice and female virtue, 
between the “evil” public world and the “good” private world, they might 
have marched into the public world, demanding it absorb the virtues and 
values of the private world from which they had come. 119 

In assessing Elshtain’s critique of liberal feminism, 1990s liberal feminists 
observed that although Elshtain’s critique applied to Friedan’s The Feminine 
Mystique (1963), it did not apply to Friedan’s The Second Stage (1981). 
More generally, 1990s liberal feminists found several reasons to fault Elsh- 
tain’s communitarian line of thought. In particular, they saw her as embrac- 
ing an “overly romanticized view of a traditional community, where the 
status quo is not only given but often embraced” 120 and where, therefore, 
women’s traditional roles remain largely unchanged even if supposedly more 
valued by society as a whole. They also saw her as accepting the values of a 
community without critically examining its exclusionary potentialities or 



Critiques of Liberal Feminism 43 


asking what kind of communities constitute an environment in which 
women can thrive. 

Critique Three: 

Racism, Classism, and Heterosexism 

Feminist critics of liberal feminism fault it not only for espousing a male 
ontology of self and an individualist politics but also for being only or 
mainly focused on the interests of white, middle-class, heterosexual women. 
Although liberal feminists accept this criticism as a just and fair one, they 
nonetheless note in their own defense that they have come a long way since 
the nineteenth century when, for example, they largely ignored black 
women’s concerns. Nowadays, the situation is quite different. Liberal femi- 
nists are very attentive to how a woman’s race affects her views on any num- 
ber of topics, including fairly mundane ones such as housework. 

We will recall that because Friedan addressed a largely white, middle- 
class, and well-educated group of women in The Feminist Mystique, it made 
sense for her to describe the housewife role as oppressive. After all, her pri- 
mary audience did suffer from the kind of psychological problems people 
experience when they are underchallenged and restricted to repeatedly per- 
forming the same routine tasks. But as Angela Davis commented, the 
housewife role tends to be experienced as liberating rather than oppressive 
by a significant number of black women. 121 Indeed, stressed Davis, many 
black women, particularly poor ones, would be only too happy to trade 
their problems for the “problem that has no name.” They would embrace 
white, middle-class, suburban life enthusiastically, happy to have plenty of 
time to lavish on their families and themselves. 

Liberal feminists’ increased stress on issues of race has prompted an increas- 
ing number of minority women to join and become active in liberal feminist 
organizations. For example, largely because NOW has allied itself with minority 
organizations devoted to welfare reform, civil rights, immigration policy, 
apartheid, and migrant worker and tribal issues, by 1992, minority women con- 
stituted 30 percent of NOW’s leadership and 10 percent of its staff. 122 Unlike 
nineteenth-century liberal feminists, today’s liberal feminists no longer mistak- 
enly contrast women’s rights with blacks’ rights, implying that black women are 
neither “real women” nor “real blacks” but some sort of hybrid creatures whose 
rights are of little concern to either white women or black men. 

In addition to racism, classism previously existed to a marked degree 
within liberal feminism, largely because the women who initially led the 
women’s rights movement were from the upper middle class. Seemingly 



44 Chapter 1: Liberal Feminism 


oblivious to the social and economic privileges of the women whom she ad- 
dressed in The Feminine Mystique, Friedan simply assumed all or most 
women were supported by men and therefore worked for other than finan- 
cial reasons. Later, when she came into increased contact with single mothers 
trying to support their families on meager wages or paltry welfare benefits, 
Friedan realized just how hard life can be for a poor urban woman working 
in a factory, as opposed to a wealthy suburban woman driving to a PTA 
meeting. Thus, in The Second Stage, Friedan tried to address some of the eco- 
nomic concerns of working women. Nevertheless, her primary audience 
remained the daughters of the housewives she had tried to liberate in the 
1960s: well-educated, financially comfortable, working mothers whom she 
wished to rescue from the hardships of the so-called double day. In the final 
analysis, The Second Stage is a book for middle-class professional women 
(and men) much more than a text for working-class people. It envisions a 
society in which men and women assume equal burdens and experience 
equal benefits in both the public and the private worlds. But it fails to ask 
whether a capitalist society can afford to develop ideal work and family con- 
ditions for all of its members or only for the “best and brightest” — that is, 
for those professionals and quasi professionals who are already well enough 
off to take advantage of joint appointments, parental leaves, the mommy 
track, flextime, leaves of absence, and so on. 

Similarly, Friedan’s The Fountain of Age (1993) is directed more toward rela- 
tively well-to-do and healthy old people than relatively poor and frail old 
people. Although Friedan’s anecdotes about people remaking their lives after the 
age of sixty are inspiring, they are, as one commentator noted, mostly tales 
about “life-long achievers with uncommon financial resources” 123 who are con- 
tinuing to do in their “golden years” what they did in their younger years. The 
experience of this group of people is to be contrasted with U.S. citizens whose 
work years have worn them out physically and psychologically and who find it 
extremely difficult to survive let alone thrive on a small, fixed income. As such 
people age, especially if they are infirm, their main enemy is not “self-image.” 
On the contrary, it is “unsafe neighborhoods, unmanageable stairs, tight bud- 
gets and isolation.” 124 To be sure, Friedan noted the plight of aging, infirm U.S. 
citizens in The Fountain of Age and recommended a variety of concrete ways 
(e.g., home care and community support) to ameliorate their situation. Yet she 
failed to address society’s general unwillingness to allocate time, money, and love 
to old people who act old and need more than what some consider their fair 
share of society’s resources. Indeed, by emphasizing the importance of remain- 
ing “vital” in old age, Friedan may have inadvertently helped widen the gap 
between advantaged and disadvantaged old people. 



Conclusion 45 


Finally, in addition to racism and classism, heterosexism has posed 
problems for liberal feminists. When lesbians working within the women’s 
rights movement decided publicly to avow their sexual identity, the leader- 
ship and membership of organizations such as NOW disagreed about how 
actively and officially the organization should support gay rights. As al- 
ready described, Friedan was among the feminists who feared that a vocal 
and visible lesbian constituency might further alienate the public from 
“women’s rights” causes. Friedan’s successor in office, Arlein Flernandez, 
was embarrassed by her predecessor’s lukewarm support for lesbians, how- 
ever. Upon accepting the presidency of NOW in 1970, Flernandez issued a 
strong statement in support of lesbians: “[NOW does] not prescribe a sex- 
ual preference test for applicants. We ask only that those who join NOW 
commit themselves to work for full equality for women and that they do so 
in the context that the struggle in which we are engaged is part of the total 
struggle to free all persons to develop their full humanity. . . . [W]e need 
to free all our sisters from the shackles of a society which insists on viewing 
us in terms of sex.” 125 Lesbians, no less than heterosexual women, insisted 
Hernandez, have sexual rights. 

To be sure, not all of NOW’s membership applauded Hernandez’s views. 
Specifically, conservative members complained that “gay rights” was not a 
bona fide woman’s issue. Radical members of NOW countered that if any- 
one knew what a real womans issue was, it was the lesbian: she who puts 
women, not men, at the center of her private as well as public life. The battle 
between these two groups in NOW escalated to such a degree it threatened 
NOW’s existence for a year or so before the organization officially pro- 
claimed lesbian rights as a NOW issue. In 1990, NOW manifested its sup- 
port of lesbians in a particularly visible way: It elected Patricia Ireland, an 
open bisexual, as its president. It is important to stress, however, that even 
today NOW supports lesbianism as a personal sexual preference — as a 
lifestyle or partner choice some women make — rather than as a political 
statement about the best way to achieve women’s liberation. Liberal feminists 
do not claim that women must orient all of their sexual desires toward 
women and away from men or that all women must love women more than 
they love men. The claim is instead that men as well as women must treat 
each other as equals, as persons equally worthy of love. 

Conclusion 

One way to react to the limitations of liberal feminism is to dismiss it as a 
bourgeois, white movement. In essence, this is precisely what Ellen Willis did 



46 Chapter 1: Liberal Feminism 


in her 1975 article “The Conservatism of Ms.,” which faulted Ms. magazine, 
the most widely recognized publication of liberal feminism, for imposing a 
pseudofeminist “party line.” After describing this line at length, Willis noted 
its overall message was a denial of womens pressing need to overthrow patri- 
archy and capitalism and an affirmation of women’s supposed ability to make 
it in the “system.” Whatever Ms. has to offer women, insisted Ellis, it is not 
feminism: 

At best, Ms.’s self-improvement, individual-liberation philosophy is rele- 
vant only to an elite; basically it is an updated women’s magazine fantasy. 
Instead of the sexy chick or the perfect homemaker, we now have a new 
image to live up to: the liberated woman. This fantasy misrepresented as 
feminism, misleads some women, convinces others that “women’s lib” has 
nothing to do with them, and plays into the hands of those who oppose 
any real change in women’s condition. 126 

Willis’s criticism may have been on target at the time, but Ms. has 
changed since the mid-1970s. Its editors have featured articles that show, for 
example, how classism, racism, and heterosexism intersect with sexism, 
thereby doubling, tripling, and even quadrupling the oppression of some 
women. Moreover, liberal feminists have, with few exceptions, 127 moved 
away from their traditional belief that any woman who wants to can liberate 
herself “individually” by “throwing off” her conditioning and “unilaterally” 
rejecting “femininity.” 128 They now believe that achieving even a modest 
goal such as “creating equal employment opportunity for women” calls for 
much more than the effort of individual women; it will require the effort of a 
whole society committed to “giving girls and boys the same early education 
and ending sex prejudice, which in turn will require major redistribution of 
resources and vast changes in consciousness.” 129 Sexual equality cannot be 
achieved through individual women’s willpower alone. Also necessary are 
major alterations in people’s deepest social and psychological structures. 

In a 2002 article entitled “Essentialist Challenges to Liberal Feminism,” 
Ruth E. Groenhout argued that feminists who are not liberal feminists 
should reconsider their wholesale rejection of liberalism. Specifically, she sug- 
gested that, properly interpreted, the liberal view of human nature is not 
quite as bad as Jaggar and Elshtain portrayed it. As Groenhout understands 
it, the liberal picture of human nature contains “a crucial aspect of the femi- 
nist analysis of the wrongness of sexist oppression.” 130 

Sexual oppression, and social systems that perpetuate sexual oppression, 
are morally evil because they limit or deny women’s capacity to reflect on and 



Conclusion 47 


determine their own lives. Sexism also causes immeasurable harm to people, 
and its consequences are a part of the evil it causes, but sexism would be 
wrong even if it did not result in either impoverishment or sexualized vio- 
lence against women. It is wrong, ultimately, because it treats some humans 
as less than human and limits their freedom to take responsibility for their 
own lives. 131 

For all the ways liberal feminism may have gone wrong for women, it did 
some things very right for women along the way. Women owe to liberal 
feminists many of the civil, educational, occupational, and reproductive 
rights they currently enjoy. They also owe to liberal feminists the ability to 
walk increasingly at ease in the public domain, claiming it as no less their 
territory than men’s. Perhaps enough time has passed for feminists critical of 
liberal feminism to reconsider their dismissal of it. 



2 


Radical Feminism: 

Libertarian and Cultural Perspectives 


As we noted in Chapter 1, the 1960s and 1970s feminists who belonged to 
women’s rights groups such as the National Organization for Women 
believed they could achieve gender equality by reforming the “system” — by 
working to eliminate discriminatory educational, legal, and economic poli- 
cies. 1 Achieving equal rights for women was the paramount goal of these 
reformers, and the fundamental tenets of liberal political philosophy were a 
comfortable fit for these reformers. But not all 1960s and 1970s feminists 
wanted to find a place for women in the “system.” The feminists who 
formed groups such as the Redstockings, the Feminists, and the New York 
Radical Feminists perceived themselves as revolutionaries rather than 
reformers. Unlike reformist feminists, who joined fundamentally main- 
stream women’s rights groups, these revolutionary feminists did not 
become interested in women’s issues as a result of working for government 
agencies, being appointed to commissions on the status of women, or join- 
ing women’s educational or professional groups. Instead, their desire to 
improve women’s condition emerged in the context of their participation 
in radical social movements, such as the civil-rights and anti-Vietnam War 
movements. 2 

Dubbed “radical feminists,” these revolutionary feminists introduced into 
feminist thought the practice of consciousness-raising. Women came together 
in small groups and shared their personal experiences as women with each 
other. They discovered that their individual experiences were not unique to 
them but widely shared by many women. According to Valerie Bryson, con- 
sciousness-raising showed how 


48 




Radical Feminism 49 


the trauma of a woman who had been raped or who had had to resort to an il- 
legal abortion seemed to be linked to the experiences of the wife whose hus- 
band refused to do his share of housework, appeared never to have heard of the 
female orgasm or sulked if she went out for the evening; the secretary whose 
boss insisted that she wear short skirts, expected her to “be nice” to important 
clients or failed to acknowledge that she was effectively running his office; and 
the female student whose teachers expected less of the “girls,” refused requests 
to study female writers or even traded grades for sexual favours. 3 

Empowered by the realization that women’s fates were profoundly linked, 
radical feminists proclaimed that “the personal is political” and that all 
women are “sisters.” They insisted that men’s control of both women’s sexual 
and reproductive lives and women’s self-identity, self-respect, and self-esteem 
is the most fundamental of all the oppressions human beings visit on each 
other. 

The claim that women’s oppression as women is more fundamental than 
other forms of human oppression is difficult to unpack. According to Alison 
Jaggar and Paula Rothenberg, it can be interpreted to mean one or more of 
five things: 

1 . That women were, historically, the first oppressed group. 

2. That women’s oppression is the most widespread, existing in virtually 
every known society. 

3. That women’s oppression is the hardest form of oppression to eradicate 
and cannot be removed by other social changes such as the abolition of 
class society. 

4. That women’s oppression causes the most suffering to its victims, 
qualitatively as well as quantitatively, although the suffering may often 
go unrecognized because of the sexist prejudices of both the oppressors 
and the victims. 

5. That women’s oppression . . . provides a conceptual model for under- 
standing all other forms of oppression. 4 

But just because radical feminists agreed in principle that sexism is the 
first, most widespread, or deepest form of human oppression did not mean 
they also agreed about the nature and function of this pernicious ism or the 
best way to eliminate it. On the contrary, radical feminists split into two 
basic camps — radical-libertarian feminists and radical-cultural feminists — and 
depending on their camp, these feminists voiced very different views about 
how to fight sexism. 



50 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


Radical-libertarian feminists claimed that an exclusively feminine gender 
identity is likely to limit women’s development as full human persons. Thus, 
they encouraged women to become androgynous persons, that is, persons 
who embody both (good) masculine and (good) feminine characteristics or, 
more controversially, any potpourri of masculine and feminine characteris- 
tics, good or bad, that strikes their fancy. Among the first radical-libertarian 
feminists to celebrate androgynous women was Joreen Freeman. She wrote: 
“What is disturbing about a Bitch is that she is androgynous. She incorpo- 
rates within herself qualities defined as ‘masculine’ as well as ‘feminine.’ A 
Bitch is blatant, direct, arrogant, at times egoistic. She has no liking for the 
indirect, subtle, mysterious ways of the ‘eternal feminine.’ She disdains the 
vicarious life deemed natural to women because she wants to live a life of her 
own.” 5 In other words, a “Bitch” does not want to limit herself to being a 
sweet girl with little in the way of power. Instead, she wants to embrace as 
part of her gender identity those masculine characteristics that permit her to 
lead life on her own terms. 

Freeman’s views did not go unchallenged. Among others, Alice Echols 
rejected as wrongheaded Freeman’s celebration of the Bitch. She said that 
Freeman’s Bitch was far too masculine to constitute a role model for 
women. Still, Echols credited Freeman for expressing radical-libertarian 
feminists’ desire to free women from the constraints of female biology. Just 
because a woman is biologically a female does not mean she is destined to 
exhibit only feminine characteristics. Women can be masculine as well as 
feminine. 6 They can choose their gender roles and identities, mixing and 
matching them at will. 

Later, after the shock value of Freeman’s rhetoric had dissipated, some rad- 
ical feminists began to have second thoughts about the wisdom of women 
striving to be androgynous persons. As they saw it, a Bitch was not a full 
human person but only a woman who had embraced some of the worst fea- 
tures of masculinity. According to Echols, this group of radical feminists, 
soon labeled radical-cultural feminists, replaced the goal of androgyny with a 
summons to affirm women’s essential “femaleness.” 7 Far from believing, as 
radical-libertarian feminists did, that women should exhibit both masculine 
and feminine traits and behaviors, radical-cultural feminists expressed the 
view that it is better for women to be strictly female/feminine. Women, they 
said, should not try to be like men. On the contrary, they should try to be 
more like women, emphasizing the values and virtues culturally associated 
with women (“interdependence, community, connection, sharing, emotion, 
body, trust, absence of hierarchy, nature, immanence, process, joy, peace and 
life”) and deemphasizing the values and virtues culturally associated with 



Libertarian atid Cultural Views on the Sex! Gender System 5 1 


men (“independence, autonomy, intellect, will, wariness, hierarchy, domina- 
tion, culture, transcendence, product, asceticism, war and death”). 8 Moreover, 
and in the ideal, women should appreciate that, despite cultural variations 
among themselves, all women share one and the same female nature, 9 and the 
less influence men have on this nature, the better. 10 

To be certain, like any other conceivable classification of radical feminists, 
the libertarian-cultural distinction is subject to criticism. Yet, in my estimation, 
this particular distinction helps explain not only why some radical feminists 
embrace the concept of androgyny and others eschew it, but also why some 
radical feminists view both sex and reproduction as oppressive, even dangerous 
for women and why others view these aspects as liberating, even empowering 
for women. As we shall see throughout this chapter, radical feminists are not 
afraid to take exception to each other’s views. 

Libertarian and Cultural Views on the Sex/Gender System 

In order to appreciate radical-libertarian and radical-cultural feminist 
views on androgyny in greater detail, it is useful first to understand the 
so-called sex/gender system. According to radical-libertarian feminist 
Gayle Rubin, the sex/ gender system is a “set of arrangements by which a 
society transforms biological sexuality into products of human 
activity.” 11 So, for example, patriarchal society uses certain facts about 
male and female biology (chromosomes, anatomy, hormones) as the basis 
for constructing a set of masculine and feminine gender identities and 
behaviors that serve to empower men and disempower women. In the 
process of accomplishing this task, patriarchal society convinces itself its 
cultural constructions are somehow “natural” and therefore that people’s 
“normality” depends on their ability to display whatever gender identities 
and behaviors are culturally linked with their biological sex. 

Among others, radical-libertarian feminists rejected patriarchal society’s as- 
sumption there is a necessary connection between one’s sex (male or female) 
and one’s gender (masculine or feminine). Instead, they claimed that gender is 
separable from sex and that patriarchal society uses rigid gender roles to keep 
women passive (“affectionate, obedient, responsive to sympathy and approval, 
cheerful, kind and friendly”) and men active (“tenacious, aggressive, curious, 
ambitious, planful, responsible, original and competitive”). 12 They claimed 
the way for women to dispel men’s wrongful power over women is for both 
sexes first to recognize women are no more destined to be passive than men 
are destined to be active, and then to develop whatever combination of femi- 
nine and masculine traits best reflects their individually unique personalities. 



52 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 

Some Libertarian Views on Gender 

Millett’s Sexual Politics 

Among other prominent radical-libertarian feminists, Kate Millett in- 
sisted that the roots of women’s oppression are buried deep in patriarchy’s 
sex/gender system. In Sexual Politics (1970), she claimed the male-female 
sex relationship is the paradigm for all power relationships: “Social caste 
supersedes all other forms of inegalitarianism: racial, political, or eco- 
nomic, and unless the clinging to male supremacy as a birthright is finally 
forgone, all systems of oppression will continue to function simply by 
virtue of their logical and emotional mandate in the primary human situ- 
ation.” 13 Because male control of the public and private worlds maintains 
patriarchy, male control must be eliminated if women are to be liberated. 
But this is no easy task. To eliminate male control, men and women have 
to eliminate gender — specifically, sexual status, role, and temperament — 
as it has been constructed under patriarchy. 

Patriarchal ideology exaggerates biological differences between men and 
women, making certain that men always have the dominant, or masculine, 
roles and women always have the subordinate, or feminine, ones. This ideol- 
ogy is so powerful, said Millett, that men are usually able to secure the appar- 
ent consent of the very women they oppress. Men do this through 
institutions such as the academy, the church, and the family, each of which 
justifies and reinforces women’s subordination to men, resulting in most 
women’s internalization of a sense of inferiority to men. Should a woman 
refuse to accept patriarchal ideology by casting off her femininity — that is, 
her submissiveness/subordination — men will use coercion to accomplish 
what conditioning has failed to achieve. Intimidation is everywhere in patri- 
archy, according to Millet. The streetwise woman realizes that if she wants to 
survive in patriarchy, she had better act feminine, or else she may be sub- 
jected to “a variety of cruelties and barbarities.” 14 

Millett stressed that despite men’s continual attempts to condition and co- 
erce all women, many women have proved uncontrollable. During the 1800s, 
for example, U.S. women’s resistance to men’s power took several forms, 
including the women’s movement inaugurated in 1848 at Seneca Falls, New 
York. As noted in Chapter 1 , this spirited movement helped women gain 
many important legal, political, and economic liberties and equalities. Never- 
theless, the women’s movement of the 1800s failed to liberate women fully, 
because it did not adequately challenge the sex/ gender system at its deepest 
roots. As a result, twentieth-century patriarchal forces regained some of the 
ground they had lost from nineteenth-century feminist activists. 



Some Libertarian Views on Gender 53 


Millett singled out authors D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, and Norman 
Mailer as some of the most articulate leaders of patriarchy’s 1930-1960 
assault on feminist ideas. She claimed that because readers typically took 
Lawrence’s, Miller’s, and Mailer’s descriptions of relationships in which women 
are sexually humiliated and abused by men as prescriptions for ideal sexual 
conduct, women tended to regard themselves as sexual failures, unable to 
emulate the sexual behavior of the characters in Miller’s Sexus, for example: 

“You never wear any undies do you? You’re a slut, do you know it?” 

I pulled her dress up and made her sit that way while I finished my coffee. 
“Play with it a bit while I finish this.” 

“You’re filthy,” she said, but she did as I told her. 

“Take your two fingers and open it up. I like the color of it.” 

. . . With this I reached for a candle on the dresser at my side and I handed 
it to her. 

“Let’s see if you can get it in all the way. ...” 

“You can make me do anything, you dirty devil.” 

“You like it, don’t you?” 15 

To the objection that readers of Sexus can tell the difference between fiction 
and reality, Millett replied that pornography often functions in much the 
same way advertising does. The perfectly slim bodies of the models who grace 
the covers of Vogue become standards for average women. Nobody has to 
articulate an explicit law, “Thou shah mold thine lumpen body in the image 
of Cindy Crawford.” Every woman simply knows what is expected of her, 
what it means to be a beautiful woman. In the same way, every reader of Sexus 
simply knows what is expected of him or her, what it means to be a sexually 
vital person as opposed to a sexual dud. 

In addition to these literary pornographers, Millett identified two other 
patriarchal groups — neo-Freudian psychologists and Parsonian sociologists — 
as leading the assault on feminists. Although Sigmund Freud’s openness about 
sexuality, his willingness to talk about what people do or do not do in the 
bedroom, initially appeared as a progressive step toward better, more various, 
and more liberating sexual relations, Millett claimed Freud’s disciples used his 
writings to “rationalize the invidious relationship between the sexes, to ratify 
traditional roles, and to validate temperamental differences.” 16 In a similar 
vein, the followers ofTalcott Parsons, an eminent sociologist, used his writ- 
ings to argue that distinctions between masculine and feminine traits are bio- 
logical/natural rather than social/cultural, and that without rigid gender 
dimorphism, society could not function as well as it does now. Convinced 



54 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


that gender identities and behaviors are not “an arbitrary imposition on an 
infinitely plastic biological base,” but rather “an adjustment to the real biolog- 
ical differences between the sexes,” Parsons’s disciples confidently asserted that 
women’s subordination to men is natural. 17 

Rather than concluding her discussion of patriarchal reactionaries on a 
despairing note, however, Millett ended it on an optimistic note. In the late 
1970s, women were, she believed, regrouping their forces. Aware of their 
nineteenth-century predecessors’ mistakes, these twentieth-century feminists 
were determined not to repeat history. Millett observed in contemporary 
feminism a determined effort to destroy the sex/ gender system — the basic 
source of women’s oppression — and to create a new society in which men 
and women are equals at every level of existence. 18 

Although Millett looked forward to an androgynous future, to an integra- 
tion of separate masculine and feminine subcultures, she insisted this inte- 
gration must proceed cautiously with a thorough evaluation of all masculine 
and feminine traits. Obedience, as it has been traditionally exhibited by 
women, for example, should not be unreflectively celebrated as a desirable 
human trait, that is, as a trait an androgynous person should recognize as 
positive and therefore seek to possess. Nor is aggressiveness, as it has been 
traditionally exhibited by men, to be incorporated into the psyche of the 
androgynous person as a desirable human trait. Androgyny, speculated Mil- 
lett, is a worthy ideal only if the feminine and masculine qualities integrated 
in the androgynous person are separately worthy. 19 After all, if we are told 
the ideal human combines in herself or himself masculine arrogance and 
feminine servility, we will be less favorably impressed than if we are told the 
ideal human combines the strength traditionally associated with men and 
the compassion traditionally associated with women. Not only is it undesir- 
able to combine in one person the two vices of arrogance and servility — the 
excess and defect, respectively, of the virtue of self-respect — but it is also 
impossible, since these two vices are polar opposites. In contrast, it is both 
possible and desirable to combine in one person the qualities of strength and 
compassion, since these two virtues are complementary and likely to help a 
person live well in his or her community. 

Firestone’s Dialectic of Sex 

Like Millett, Shulamith Firestone, another radical-libertarian feminist, claimed 
the material basis for the sexual/political ideology of female submission and 
male domination was rooted in the reproductive roles of men and women. Fire- 
stone, however, believed Millett’s solution to this problem — the elimination of 



Some Libertarian Views on Gender 55 


the sexual double standard that permits men but not women to experiment 
with sex, and the inauguration of a dual-parenting system that gives fathers and 
mothers equal child-rearing responsibilities — was inadequate. It would, in her 
estimation, take far more than such modest reforms in the sex/ gender system to 
free women’s (and men’s) sexuality from the biological imperatives of procre- 
ation and to liberate women’s (and men’s) personalities from the socially con- 
structed, Procrustean prisons of femininity and masculinity. In fact, said 
Firestone, it would take a major biological and social revolution to effect this 
kind of human liberation: Artificial (ex utero) reproduction would need to 
replace natural (in utero) reproduction, and so-called intentional families, 
whose members chose each other for reasons of friendship or even simple con- 
venience, would need to replace the traditional biological family constituted in 
and through its members’ genetic connections to each other. 

Firestone maintained that with the end of the biological family would 
come the breakup of the Oedipal family situation that prohibits, among other 
things, parent-child incest. No longer would there be concerns about so- 
called inbreeding as people reverted to their natural “polymorphous perver- 
sity” 20 and again delighted in all types of sexual behavior. Genital sex, so 
important for the purposes of biological sex, would become just one kind of 
sexual experience — and a relatively unimportant one — as people rediscovered 
the erotic pleasures of their oral and anal cavities and engaged in sexual rela- 
tions with members of the same as well as the opposite sex. 

Firestone claimed that as soon as both men and women were truly free to 
engage in polymorphous, perverse sex, it would no longer be necessary for 
men to display only masculine identities and behaviors and for women to 
display only feminine ones. Freed from their gender roles at the level of biol- 
ogy (i.e., reproduction), women would no longer have to be passive, recep- 
tive, and vulnerable, sending out “signals” to men to dominate, possess, and 
penetrate them in order to keep the wheels of human procreation spinning. 
Instead, men and women would be encouraged to mix and match feminine 
and masculine traits and behaviors in whatever combination they wished. As 
a result, not only would human beings evolve into androgynous persons, but 
all of society would also become androgynous. As Firestone saw it, the bio- 
logical division of the sexes for the purpose of procreation had created not 
only a false dichotomy between masculinity and femininity but also an 
invidious cultural split between the sciences and the arts. 

Firestone believed we associate science and technology with men and the 
humanities and the arts with women. Thus, the “masculine response” to reality 
is the “technological response”: “objective, logical, extroverted, realistic, con- 
cerned with the conscious mind (the ego), rational, mechanical, pragmatic and 



56 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


down-to-earth, stable.” 21 In contrast, the “feminine response” to reality is the 
“aesthetic response”: “subjective, intuitive, introverted, wishful, dreamy or fan- 
tastic, concerned with the subconscious (the id), emotional, even temperamen- 
tal (hysterical).” 22 Only when the aforementioned biological revolution 
eliminates the need for maintaining rigid lines between male and female, mas- 
culine and feminine, will we be able to bridge the gap between the sciences and 
the arts. Androgynous persons will find themselves living in an androgynous 
society in which the categories of the technological and the aesthetic, together 
with the categories of the masculine and the feminine, will have disappeared 
through what Firestone termed “a mutual cancellation — a matter-antimatter 
explosion, ending with a poof!” 23 At last, claimed Firestone, the male Techno- 
logical Mode would be able to “produce in actuality what the female Aesthetic 
Mode had envisioned,” namely, a world in which we use our knowledge to cre- 
ate not hell but heaven on earth — a world in which men no longer have to toil 
by the sweat of their brow to survive and in which women no longer have to 
bear children in pain and travail. 24 

Clearly, Firestone’s version of androgyny is quite different from Millett’s. 
Indeed, we may ask whether it is androgyny in the strict sense of the term, for 
in the world envisioned by Firestone, men and women as defined by current 
gender traits and role responsibilities no longer exist. Nevertheless, because 
Firestone’s utopian persons are permitted to combine within themselves a 
range of characteristics we currently term masculine and feminine, Firestone’s 
version of androgyny might, after all, be situated on the same continuum 
with Millett’s. But for Millett, the ideal androgynous person combines a bal- 
ance of the best masculine and feminine characteristics, whereas for Firestone, 
there is no one way to be androgynous. 


Some Cultural Views on Gender 

Marilyn French 

Because Marilyn French attributes male-female differences more to biology 
(nature) than to socialization (nurture), and because she seems to think tra- 
ditional feminine traits are somehow better than traditional masculine traits, 
I view her as more of a radical-cultural feminist than a radical-libertarian 
feminist. Like Millett and Firestone fifteen years earlier, French claimed 
men’s oppression of women leads logically to other systems of human domi- 
nation. If it is possible to justify men’s domination of women, it is possible to 
justify all forms of domination. “Stratification of men above women,” wrote 
French, “leads in time to stratification of classes: an elite rules over people 
perceived as ‘closer to nature,’ savage, bestial, animalistic.” 25 



Some Cultural Views on Gender 57 


Because French believed sexism is the model for all other isms, including 
racism and classism, she sought to explain the differences between sexism’s 
enslaving ideology of “power-over” others and an alternative, nonsexist liber- 
ating ideology of “pleasure -with” others. 

Examining the origins of patriarchy, French concluded early humans lived 
in harmony with nature. They saw themselves as small parts of a larger whole 
into which they had to fit if they wanted to survive. Considering evidence 
from primates and the world’s remaining “simple societies,” French speculated 
that the first human societies were probably matricentric (mother centered), 
for it was the mother who more than likely played the primary role in the 
group’s survival-oriented activities of bonding, sharing, and harmonious par- 
ticipation in nature. Nature was friend, and as sustainer of nature and repro- 
ducer of life, woman was also friend. 26 French also speculated that as the 
human population grew, food inevitably became scarce. No longer experienc- 
ing nature as a generous mother, humans decided to take matters into their 
own hands. They developed techniques to free themselves from the whims of 
nature. They drilled, dug, and plowed nature for the bounty it had decided to 
hold back from them. The more control humans gained over nature, however, 
the more they separated themselves from it physically and psychologically. 
French claimed that because a “distance had opened up between humans and 
their environment as a result of increasing controls exercised over nature,” 
humans became alienated from nature. 27 Alienation, defined by French as a 
profound sense of separation, aroused “hostility,” which in turn led to “fear” 
and finally to “enmity.” It is not surprising, then, that these negative feelings 
intensified men’s desire to control not only nature but also women, whom 
they associated with nature on account of their role in reproduction. 28 

Out of men’s desire to control the woman/nature dyad was born patriarchy, a 
hierarchical system that values having power over as many people as possible. 
Originally developed to ensure the human community’s survival, the desire for 
power over others rapidly became, under patriarchy, a value cultivated simply 
for the experience of being the person in charge, the lawgiver, the boss, number 
one in the pecking order. French speculated that untempered by cooperation, 
patriarchal competition would inevitably lead to unbridled human conflict. 29 

Intent on sparing the world conflict — particularly as it could, in these 
times, escalate into a nuclear holocaust — French claimed that feminine val- 
ues must be reintegrated into the masculine society created by a patriarchal 
ideology. If we want to see the twenty-first century, said French, we must 
treasure in our lives and actions “love and compassion and sharing and nutri- 
tiveness [sic] equally with control and structure, possessiveness and status.” 30 
Were we to take this last assertion at face value, we could easily infer that, for 
French, the best society is an androgynous one in which both men and 



58 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


women embrace the historically feminine values of love, compassion, shar- 
ing, and nurturance just as eagerly as humans embrace the historically mas- 
culine values of control, structure, possessiveness, and status. Yet a closer 
reading of French suggests she actually esteemed feminine values more than 
masculine values and that any time she affirmed a masculine value, she did so 
only because she had subjected it to what Joyce Trebilcot termed a “feminist 
reconceiving” 31 — that is, a linguistic reinterpretation of a concept that 
involves changing its descriptive meaning, the evaluative meaning, or both. 32 
According to French, most of her linguistic reinterpretations of masculine 
values involved changing their descriptive rather than evaluative meaning. 
For example, French did not claim that the masculine value of so-called 
structure is bad in and of itself. Instead, she argued that structure, under- 
stood as a system or an organization, is good provided it serves to connect 
rather than disconnect people. 33 

That French’s androgyny involved a substantial reinterpretation of 
male/masculine values but not of female/feminine values became increas- 
ingly clear throughout her Beyond Power (1985). Because “humanness” had 
been deleteriously identified with a destructive, power-mongering masculine 
world in the past, French suggested the term should now be beneficially 
identified with a creative, power-sharing feminine world. Guided by the 
value of having power over others, the masculine world accommodates only 
those thoughts and actions that keep a small group of people in power. This 
world has room for “true grit,” “doing what you have to do,” and “the end 
justifying the means,” but no room for “knowing when to stop,” savoring 
the “best things in life” (which, we are told, are “for free”), and reflecting on 
process as well as product. Thus, to be a total man, or patriarch, is not to be 
a full human being. Rather, it is to be what psychoanalytic feminist Dorothy 
Dinnerstein termed a minotaur — “[the] gigantic and eternally infantile off- 
spring of a mother’s unnatural lust, [the] male representative of mindless, 
greedy power, [who] insatiably devours live human flesh.” 34 

In contrast, the feminine world, guided by the value of having pleasure — 
by which French meant the ability of one group or person to affirm all oth- 
ers — accommodates many ways of being and doing. French viewed pleasure 
as a very broad and deep concept that encompassed all the enriching experi- 
ences we believe a full human person should have. 35 It can be derived from 
self as well as others, from the mind as well as the body, from the simple and 
bucolic as well as the complex and urbane. 

Because of her obvious dislike for the masculine version of power over oth- 
ers, French claimed the androgynous person must strike a balance between 
pleasure with others and a feminine version of power over others she labeled 



Some Cultural Views on Gender 59 


“power-to” do for others. French emphasized it is good for us to have power 
as well as pleasure in our lives, provided our power manifests itself not as the 
desire to destroy (power over others) but as the desire to create (power to do 
for others). Conceding we may never be able to completely eliminate our de- 
sire to be “top dog,” French nonetheless insisted it is possible for us to curb 
our competitive drives and to cultivate instead our cooperative capacities. 

Mary Daly 

More than Millett, Firestone, and even French, radical-cultural feminist 
Mary Daly denigrated traditional masculine traits. Although Daly began her 
intellectual journey in Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Womens 
Liberation (1973) with a plea for androgyny, she ultimately rejected the 
terms “masculine” and “feminine” as hopelessly befuddled products of patri- 
archy. Fler term-transforming travels through Gyn/Ecology ended in Pure 
Lust, a spirited defense of “wild,” “lusty,” and “wandering” women — women 
who no longer desire to be androgynous and who prefer to identify them- 
selves as radical lesbian feminist separatists. 

In Beyond God the Father, her first major work, Daly focused on God as the 
paradigm for all patriarchs, arguing that unless he is dethroned from both 
men’s and women’s consciousness, women will never be empowered as full 
persons. 36 She repeatedly claimed that if anyone ever had a power-over-others 
complex, it is the transcendent God who appears in Judaism, Islam, and espe- 
cially Christianity. This God is so remote and aloof that he dwells in a place 
beyond earth, suggesting that power over others inevitably leads to separation 
from others. A transcendent God, observed Daly, is a God who thinks in 
terms of I-it, subject-object, or self-other relationships. Furthermore, what is 
most alien to this transcendent God, this total being, is the natural world he 
called into existence out of total nothingness. Thus, women, who are associ- 
ated with nature on account of their reproductive powers, play the role of 
object/other against both God’s and men’s role of subject/self. 

Because the old transcendent God rejected women, Daly wished to re- 
place him with a new, immanent God. An immanent God thinks in terms of 
I-thou, subject-subject, or self-self relationships and is thoroughly identified 
with the natural world in which he/she/it abides, she said. Thus, women are 
equal to men before this God, whom Daly described as Be-ing. 37 

One of the main ways in which I-it thinking is reflected in patriarchal 
society, said Daly, is through the institution of rigid masculine and feminine 
gender roles, polarizing the human community into two groups. Because 
men collectively perceive and define women as the second sex, each man 



60 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


becomes an I, or a self, and each woman becomes an it, or another. One way, 
then, to overcome I-it thinking, and the transcendent God who thinks I-it 
thoughts, is to break down gender dimorphism by constructing an androgy- 
nous person who is neither “I” nor “it” but beyond both forms of existence. 

Significantly, Daly’s concept of androgyny in Beyond God the Father, is 
more akin to French’s than either Millett’s or Firestone’s. She rejected the 
pluralist model of androgyny, according to which men and women have sep- 
arate but supposedly equal and complementary traits, and the assimilation 
model of androgyny, according to which women and men exhibit feminine 
as well as masculine traits. 38 As she saw it, both of these models of androgyny 
were deficient because neither of them asked whether the concepts of mas- 
culinity and femininity are worth preserving. 

Although Daly’s concerns about using the terms “masculinity” and “femi- 
ninity” were similar to those previously raised by French, she proposed to 
handle these terms in a different way than French had. Whereas French 
seemed interested in reinterpreting traditional masculine traits, Daly seemed 
intent on reinterpreting traditional feminine traits. Daly insisted that posi- 
tive feminine traits such as love, compassion, sharing, and nurturance must 
be carefully distinguished from their pathological excesses, the sort of 
masochistic feminine “virtues” for which they are frequently mistaken. For 
example, loving ordinarily is good, but under patriarchy, loving can become, 
for women, a form of total self-sacrifice or martyrdom. Thus, Daly argued 
that the construction of the truly androgynous person cannot and must not 
begin until women say no to the values of the “morality of victimization.” 
Out of this no, said Daly, will come a yes to the values of the “ethics of per- 
sonhood.” 39 By refusing to be the other, by becoming selves with needs, 
wants, and interests of their own, women will end the game of man as master 
and woman as slave. 

In Beyond God the Father, Daly observed what she described as the Unholy 
Trinity of Rape, Genocide, and War combining in their one patriarchal per- 
son the legions of sexism, racism, and classism. In Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics 
of Radical Feminism, she articulated this claim more fully, arguing that this 
Unholy Trinity, this single patriarchal person, has but one essential message: 
necrophilia, defined as “obsession with and usually erotic attraction toward 
and stimulation by corpses, typically evidenced by overt acts (as copulation 
with a corpse).” 40 Whereas Daly emphasized in Beyond God the Father that 
women cannot thrive as long as they subscribe to the morality of victimiza- 
tion, she stressed in Gyn/Ecology that women cannot even survive as long as 
they remain in patriarchy. Not only are men out to twist women’s minds, but 
they are also out to destroy women’s bodies through such practices as Hindu 



Some Cultural Views on Gender 6 1 


suttee, Chinese foot binding, African female circumcision, European witch 
burning, and Western gynecology. 41 

In Gyn/Ecology, Daly decided to reject several terms she had used in Be- 
yond God the Father. Among these terms was “androgyny,” a term that she 
now viewed as twisted, as idealizing someone like “John Travolta and Farrah 
Fawcett-Majors Scotch-taped together.” 42 The more she reflected on the tra- 
ditional concept of femininity, the more Daly was convinced that there is 
nothing good in this notion for women to pursue. She asserted patriarchy 
has constructed both the positive feminine qualities of nurturance, compas- 
sion, and gentleness and the negative feminine qualities of pettiness, jeal- 
ousy, and vanity. Thus, she concluded, women should reject the seemingly 
“good” aspects of femininity as well as the obviously “bad” ones. They are 
all “man-made constructs” shaped for the purposes of trapping women deep 
in the prison of patriarchy. 43 

Stripped of their femininity, women would be revealed in their original 
(prepatriarchal) female power and beauty, insisted Daly. Daly used Jerzy 
Kosinski’s image of a painted bird to detail the differences between “false 
femininity” and “true femaleness.” Kosinski tells the tale of a keeper who 
imprisons a natural, plain-looking bird simply by painting its feathers with a 
glittering color. Eventually, the bird is destroyed by her unpainted “friends,” 
the victim of their jealousy. Reversing Kosinski’s image, Daly claimed when 
it comes to women, it is not the artificial, painted birds (whom Daly looks 
upon as tamed, domesticated, feminized females), but the natural, plain- 
looking birds (whom Daly calls “wild females”) who suffer. For Daly, painted 
birds are the women who permit “Daddy” to deck them out in splendor, to 
“cosmetize” and perfume them, to girdle and corset them. They are the 
women whom “Daddy” dispatches to destroy real, natural women: that is, 
the women who refuse to be what the patriarchs want them to be, who insist 
on being themselves no matter what, and who peel patriarchal paint off their 
minds and bodies. 44 In Daly’s words, the “painted bird functions in the anti- 
process of double-crossing her sisters, polluting them with poisonous 
paint.” 45 The real, natural woman, in contrast, is “attacked by the mutants of 
her own kind, the man-made women.” 46 

For Daly, flying is the antidote to being painted. The real, natural woman 
does not take off patriarchal paint only to become vulnerable. Rather, she 
“takes off.” She “sends the paint flying back into the eyes of the soul -slayers”; 
she “soars . . . out of the circle of Father Time” and flies “off the clock into 
other dimensions.” 47 She flies free of “mutant fembirds,” the women who 
have permitted themselves to be constructed by patriarchy. She also flies free 
of the power of patriarchal language and therefore patriarchal values. 



62 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


In many ways, Daly’s decision to reject androgyny in Gyn/Ecology led her to 
where Friedrich Nietzsche’s transvaluation of values led him: to a redefinition 
of what is good and what is bad, counter to the prevailing notions of good and 
bad. In On the Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche contended there are two basic 
kinds of moralities: master and slave. In the master morality, good and bad are 
equivalent to noble and despicable, respectively. To be good is to be on top of 
the world. To be bad is to be repressed, oppressed, suppressed, or otherwise 
downtrodden. The criteria for goodness articulated in the slave morality are the 
polar opposites of the criteria for goodness articulated in the master morality: 
Those who espouse a slave morality extol qualities such as kindness, humility, 
and sympathy as virtues, and denigrate qualities such as assertiveness, aloof- 
ness, and pride as vices. Such thinkers venerate weak and dependent individu- 
als as saints and condemn strong and independent individuals as sinners. 

Motivated by the all-consuming resentment ( resentiment ) of the masters, the 
slaves manifest a negative attitude toward what Nietzsche believed is the most 
natural drive of a human being: the will to power. As Nietzsche saw it, the slaves 
lack not only a desire for power but also a desire for life. Fearful of conflict, of 
challenge, of charting the course of their destinies, the slaves wish to be compla- 
cent in their mediocrity. Nietzsche found slaves profoundly boring. Fie also 
found them incredibly dangerous, for they seemed intent on clogging Western 
civilization’s arteries with sugarplums, placebos, and the milk of human kindness: 

For this is how things are: the diminution and leveling of European man 
[sic] constitutes our greatest danger, for the sight of him makes us weary. 

We can see nothing today that wants to grow greater, we suspect that 
things will continue to go down, down, to become thinner, more good- 
natured, more prudent, more comfortable, more mediocre, more indiffer- 
ent, more Chinese, more Christian — there is no doubt that man [sic] is 
getting “better” all the time. 

Here precisely is what has become a fatality for Europe — together with 
the fear of man [sic] we have also lost our love of him, our reverence for 
him, our hopes for him, even the will to him. The sight of man [sic] now 
makes us weary. 48 

In order to stop this will to impotence, mediocrity, and death, Nietzsche 
mandated a transvaluation of all values that would reassign, for example, 
“good” values to the category of bad values and “bad” values to the category 
of good values. He declared war on the accepted slave values of his time, 
which he identified as the values of Judaism, Christianity, democracy, and so- 
cialism — any philosophy or theology that asks the individual to sacrifice 



Some Cultural Views on Gender 63 


himself or herself for the greater good of the community. Because slave 
morality is, according to Nietzsche, a perversion of the original, natural 
morality/psychology of the masters, transvaluation must consist in overcom- 
ing the slave morality/psychology. Transvaluation begins with the recogni- 
tion that all the stronger values, or master values, still exist but now go 
unrecognized under false names such as “cruelty,” “injury,” “appropriation,” 
“suppression,” and “exploitation.” These false names, said Nietzsche, do not 
connote what the masters originally meant, but what the slaves have inter- 
preted them to mean. The process of transvaluation will end, therefore, with 
the restoration of false names’ true meanings. 

Like Nietzsche, Daly is a transvaluator of values. She claimed that with 
respect to women, she whom the patriarch calls evil is in fact good, whereas 
she whom the patriarch calls good is in fact bad. Providing a dictionary of 
new language in the last section of Gyn/Ecology, Daly invited “hags,” “spin- 
sters,” and “haggard heretics” to “unspook” traditional language and their 
old feminine selves by “ spinning for themselves a new, unconventional lan- 
guage and new female selves. Daly insisted that women should decide who 
women want to be. For example, if women want to be hags instead of 
bathing beauties, then so be it. It is for women to decide whether being a 
hag is good or bad. Explained Daly: 

Hag is from an Old English word meaning harpy, witch. Webster’s gives as 
the first and ‘archaic’ meaning of hag: “a female demon: FURY, HARPY.” It 
also formerly meant: “an evil or frightening spirit.” (Lest this sound too nega- 
tive, we should ask the relevant questions: “Evil” by whose definition? 
“Frightening” to whom?) A third archaic definition of hag is “nightmare.” 
(The important question is: Whose nightmare?) Hag is also defined as “an 
ugly or evil-looking old woman.” But this, considering the source, may be 
considered a compliment. For the beauty of strong, creative women is “ugly” 
by misogynistic standards of “beauty” The look of female-identified women 
is “evil” to those who fear us. As for “old,” ageism is a feature of phallic soci- 
ety For women who have transvalued this, a Crone is one who should be an 
example of strength, courage, and wisdom. 49 

By the time she wrote the last page of Gyn/Ecology, Daly had completely re- 
placed the ideal of the androgynous person with the ideal of the “wild female” 
who dwells beyond masculinity and femininity. To become whole, a woman 
needs to strip away the false identity — femininity — patriarchy has constructed 
for her. Then and only then will she experience herself as the self she would 
have been had she lived her life in a matriarchy rather than a patriarchy. 



64 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


In Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy, Daly continued her transvalu- 
ation of values. In this book about woman’s power, Daly extended French’s 
analysis of power-to. It is this power men have fed on, making women grow 
thin, weak, frail, even anorexic. In order to grow strong, women must resist 
the trap of androgyny. Utterly dependent on their God-given helpmates, pa- 
triarchs offer women androgyny in a last-ditch effort to keep women by their 
sides: “Come, join forces with us. Masculinity and femininity together!” 
Women should not, said Daly, be deceived by these inviting words, which 
are simply a ploy on the part of men to appropriate for themselves whatever 
is best about women. Men have gradually realized it is in their own (but not 
women’s) best interests to become androgynous persons, since their maleness 
has so little to offer them. For example, at the end of the film Tootsie, after 
the lead character’s male identity has been disclosed (he had been posing as a 
female television star named Dorothy), he tells Julie, a woman he had be- 
friended in his incarnation as Dorothy, that he actually is Dorothy. Daly 
commented: “The message clearly is one of cannibalistic androgynous male- 
ness. Little Dustin, whom Julie had loved but rejected because she believed 
he was a woman, incorporates the best of womanhood — like Dionysus and 
Jesus before him.” 50 Men want to be androgynous so that they can subsume 
or even consume all that is female, draining women’s energies into their bod- 
ies and minds. Instead of submitting to the gynocidal process of androgyny, 
women must, said Daly, spin new, powerful self-understandings, remaining 
radically apart from men, reserving their energies for their own pursuits. 

What is most impressive about Pure Lust is Daly’s ability to provide new 
meanings, simultaneously prescriptive and descriptive, for terms. The term 
“lust” is a case in point. Daly wrote, “The usual meaning of lust within the 
lecherous state of patriarchy is well known. It means ‘sexual desire, especially of 
a violent self-indulgent character: LECHERY, LASCIVIOUSNESS.’” 51 Lust, then, is 
evil, said Daly, but only because we live in a society with a slave morality, 
which resents women. If we lived instead in a nonpatriarchal society, contin- 
ued Daly, lust would have good meanings such as “vigor,” “fertility,” “craving,” 
“eagerness,” and “enthusiasm.” 52 Thus, the lusty women of Pure Lust are the 
wild females of Gyn/Ecology, the undomesticated women who refuse to be gov- 
erned by the rules of men’s “sadosociety,” which is “formed/framed by statutes 
of studs, degrees of drones, canons of cocks, fixations of fixers, precepts of 
prickers, regulations of rakes and rippers . . . bore-ocracy.” 53 

The Daly of Pure Lust had no use for what she regarded as the petrified lan- 
guage of patriarchy, referring to it only with the aim of redefining, reinterpret- 
ing, or reclaiming its terms. Pure Lust transvaluated what counts as moral virtue 
and moral vice for women. In particular, the book showed how patriarchal 



Sexuality, Male Domination, and Female Subordination 65 


forces deprived natural women of bona fide passions, substituting for these true 
passions a collection of “plastic” and “potted” ones: a set of inauthentic, coun- 
terfeit emotions created for artificial women. 

According to Daly, plastic passions like guilt, anxiety, depression, hostility, 
bitterness, resentment, frustration, boredom, resignation, and fulfillment are 
no substitute for genuine passions like love, desire, joy, hate, aversion, sorrow, 
hope, despair, fear, and anger. Whereas genuine passions spur women to mean- 
ingful action, plastic passions enervate women. In Daly’s estimation, the plastic 
passion of fulfillment, for example, is not to be confused with the genuine pas- 
sion of joy. Fulfillment is simply the “therapeutized perversion” of joy. A ful- 
filled woman is “filled full,” “finished,” “fixed” just the way patriarchy likes her. 
Because she is so “totaled,” she cannot live the “e-motion of joy.” She lacks the 
energy to move or act purposely. 54 Fulfillment, said Daly, is just another term 
for Betty Friedan’s “problem that has no name” 55 — having a comfortable 
home, a successful husband, a wonderful child, but no joy. 

Like plastic passions, potted passions are also a poor substitute for gen- 
uine passions, in Daly’s estimation. Although potted passions are in many 
ways more real than plastic passions, they are not nearly as grand as genuine 
passions. To appreciate Daly’s point, we may view a genuine passion as a live 
evergreen out in the woods, a potted passion as a decked-out but cut (and 
hence, dying) Christmas tree, and a plastic passion as an artificial Christmas 
tree. The genuine passion of love, for example, is a life-transforming emo- 
tion, but when it is either potted or packaged and then sold as “romance,” 
women are duped into settling for love’s illusion rather than its reality. 56 
There is, of course, something tragic about settling for so little when there is 
so much to be had. Thus, Daly hoped the words in Pure Lust would help 
women liberate themselves from the pots and plastic molds blocking their 
volcanic genuine passions. 

Sexuality, Male Domination, and Female Subordination 

Radical-libertarian and radical-cultural feminists have very different ideas 
not only about gender but also about sexuality. 57 Among the feminists who 
have written insightfully on this difference is Ann Ferguson. Unfortunately 
for my purposes, Ferguson and I use different terms to express what I think 
are essentially the same ideas. To avoid an unnecessarily confusing discussion 
of Ferguson’s work, I substitute my terms “radical-libertarian” and “radical- 
cultural” for her terms “libertarian” and “radical.” 

According to Ferguson, radical-libertarian feminists’ views on sexuality are 
as follows: 



66 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


1. Heterosexual as well as other sexual practices are characterized by 
repression. The norms of patriarchal bourgeois sexuality repress the 
sexual desires and pleasures of everyone by stigmatizing sexual minori- 
ties, thereby keeping the majority “pure” and under control. 

2. Feminists should repudiate any theoretical analyses, legal restrictions, 
or moral judgements that stigmatize sexual minorities and thus restrict 
the freedom of all. 

3. As feminists we should reclaim control over female sexuality by demand- 
ing the right to practice whatever gives us pleasure and satisfaction. 

4. The ideal sexual relationship is between fully consenting, equal partners 
who negotiate to maximize one another’s sexual pleasure and satisfaction 
by any means they choose. 58 

In contrast, radical-cultural feminists’ views on sexuality are as follows: 

1 . Heterosexual sexual relations generally are characterized by an ideology of 
sexual objectification (men as subjects/masters; women as objects/slaves) 
that supports male sexual violence against women. 

2. Feminists should repudiate any sexual practice that supports or nor- 
malizes male sexual violence. 

3. As feminists we should reclaim control over female sexuality by devel- 
oping a concern with our own sexual priorities, which differ from 
men’s — that is, more concern with intimacy and less with performance. 

4. The ideal sexual relationship is between full consenting, equal partners 
who are emotionally involved and do not participate in polarized 
roles. 59 

Radical-libertarian feminists challenged theories of sexuality that sepa- 
rated supposedly good, normal, legitimate, healthy sexual practices from 
supposedly bad, abnormal, illegitimate, unhealthy sexual practices. 60 These 
feminists urged women to experiment with different kinds of sex and not to 
confine themselves to a limited range of sexual experiences. 61 

Among the most forceful and articulate spokespersons for radical-libertarian- 
feminist ideology was Gayle Rubin. She claimed that contemporary society 
remains uncomfortable with any form of sex that is not between married, het- 
erosexual couples intent on procreating children. 62 It represses — indeed pun- 
ishes — to a greater or lesser extent unmarried heterosexuals who engage in 
casual sex for pleasure, bisexuals, homosexuals, lesbians, transsexuals, transves- 
tites, fetishists, sadomasochists, sex workers, and “those whose eroticism crosses 
transgenerational boundaries.” 63 As a result of this state of affairs, many people 



Sexuality, Male Domination, and Female Subordination 67 


deny themselves the joys of sex, said Rubin. Wanting to let people have a good 
time, so to speak, Rubin urged feminists to lead a campaign to stop viewing sex 
in terms “of sins, disease, neurosis, pathology, decadence, pollution or the 
decline and fall of empires.” 64 For Rubin, all sex was good; no judgments 
should be made about the rightness or wrongness of any form of sex. 

Not surprisingly, radical-libertarian feminists’ views on sexuality were not 
uniformly accepted by one and all. Rejecting Rubin’s celebration of all forms 
of sexuality, radical-cultural feminists insisted that, in a patriarchal society, it 
was feminists’ responsibility to make judgments about one form of sexuality 
in particular; namely, sex between men and women. 

Radical-cultural feminists equated heterosexuality as they experienced 
it with “male sexuality,” that is, “driven, irresponsible, genitally-oriented 
and potentially lethal” 65 sexuality. They contrasted this “male sexuality” 
with “female sexuality,” that is “muted, diffuse, interpersonally-oriented, 
and benign” 66 sexuality. In radical-cultural feminists’ estimation, because 
men want “power and orgasm” in sex and women want “reciprocity and 
intimacy” in sex, 67 the only kind of sex that is unambiguously good for 
women is monogamous lesbianism. 68 Women must understand, they said, 
that patriarchal heterosexuality is an institution bent on sapping women’s 
emotional energies and keeping women perpetually dissatisfied with 
themselves: 

Only women can give each other a new sense of self. That identity we have to 
develop with reference to ourselves, and not in relation to men. This con- 
sciousness is the revolutionary force from which all else will follow, for ours is 
an organic revolution. For this we must be available and supportive to one 
another, give our commitment and our love, give the emotional support nec- 
essary to sustain this movement. Our energies must flow toward our sisters, 
not backwards towards our oppressors. As long as women’s liberation tries to 
free women without facing the basic heterosexual structure that binds us in 
one-to-one relationships with our oppressors, tremendous energies will con- 
tinue to flow into trying to straighten up each particular relationship with a 
man, how to get better sex, how to turn his head around — into trying to 
make the “new man” out of him, in the delusion that this will allow us to be 
the “new woman.” This obviously splits our energies and commitments, leav- 
ing us unable to be committed to the construction of the new patterns which 
will liberate us. 69 

In sum, patriarchal heterosexuality is beyond repair. It must be destroyed 
so that women can fully live, according to radical-cultural feminists. 



68 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


The Pornography Debate 

Women’s different reactions to pornography, or their use of it in their lives, 
dramatically highlight the general differences between radical-libertarian fem- 
inists and radical-cultural feminists on sexual matters. Radical-libertarian 
feminists urged women to use pornography to overcome their fears about sex, 
to arouse sexual desires, and to generate sexual fantasies. 70 These feminists 
claimed that women should feel free to view and enjoy all sorts of pornogra- 
phy, including violent pornography. Some radical-libertarian feminists even 
invited women to engage in rape fantasies in which men “had their way” with 
women in bed. There is a difference between an actual rape and a rape fantasy, 
insisted the most “libertarian” members of the radical-libertarian feminist 
camp. The same woman who derives sexual pleasure from playing Scarlett 
O’Hara-Rhett Butler sex games with her boyfriend would protest loudly were 
he actually to attempt to rape her. Just because a woman wants to explore 
whether power games are part of what makes sex “sexy” for her does not mean 
she wants to serve as an object for male violence in real life. 71 Rather than 
stubbornly insisting that pornographic representations of men sexually domi- 
nating women somehow harm women in real life, said radical-libertarian fem- 
inists, feminists should engage in an entirely open-minded and nondefensive 
examination of pornography, saving their venom for real rapists. 

Ironically, radical-libertarian feminists’ defense of pornography served to in- 
crease, not decrease, radical-cultural feminists’ opposition to it. Radical-cultural 
feminists stressed that sexuality and gender are the products of the same oppres- 
sive social forces. There is no difference between gender discrimination against 
women in the boardroom and the sexual objectification of women in the bed- 
room. In both instances, the harm done to women is about men’s power over 
women. Pornography is nothing more than patriarchal propaganda about 
women’s “proper” role as man’s servant, helpmate, caretaker, and plaything, 
according to radical-cultural feminists. Whereas men exist for themselves, 
women exist for men. Men are subjects; women are objects, they said. 

Radical-cultural feminists insisted that with rare exception, pornography 
harms women. First, it encourages men to behave in sexually harmful ways 
toward women (e.g., sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence). Second, it 
defames women as persons who have so little regard for themselves they actively 
seek or passively accept sexual abuse. And third, it leads men not only to think 
less of women as human beings but also to treat them as second-class citizens 
unworthy of the same due process and equal treatment men enjoy. 

Unable to prove that exposure to pornographic representations directly 
causes men either to harm women’s bodies or to defame women’s characters, 



The Pornography Debate 69 


radical-cultural feminists sought protection for women in antidiscrimination 
laws. They followed the lead of Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, 
who defined pornography as “the graphic sexually explicit subordination of 
women through pictures or words that also includes women dehumanized as 
sexual objects, things, or commodities; enjoying pain or humiliation or rape; 
being tied up, cut up, mutilated, bruised, or physically hurt; in postures of 
sexual submission or servility or display; reduced to body parts, penetrated by 
objects or animals, or presented in scenarios of degradation, injury, torture; 
shown as filthy or inferior; bleeding, bruised, or hurt in a context that makes 
these conditions sexual.” 72 

Radical-cultural feminists claimed that sexuality is the primary locus of 
male power in which women-harming gender relations are constructed. 73 
They also claimed that because pornographers systematically depict women 
as less fully human and, therefore, less deserving of respect and good treat- 
ment than men, pornographers can and ought to be viewed as agents of sex- 
ual discrimination, guilty of violating women’s civil rights. For this reason, 
any woman — or man, child, or transsexual used in the place of a woman — 
should be granted a legal cause of action against a particular pornographer or 
pornographic business if she is coerced into a pornographic performance, has 
pornography forced on her, or has been assaulted or attacked because of a 
particular piece of pornography. Further, any woman should be able to bring 
civil suit against traffickers in pornography on behalf of all women. 74 Empty- 
ing the pockets of pornographers is the best way for feminists to fight the 
misogynistic ideology pornographers willingly spread. 

Although radical-cultural feminists, under the leadership of MacKinnon 
and Dworkin, were initially successful in their attempt to have antipornog- 
raphy ordinances passed in Minneapolis and Indianapolis, a coalition of 
radical-libertarian and liberal feminists called the Feminist Anti-Censorship 
Taskforce (FACT) joined nonfeminist free-speech advocates to work against 
MacKinnon and Dworkin’s 1980s legislation. Largely because of FACT’s 
efforts, the U.S. Supreme Court eventually declared the Minneapolis and 
Indianapolis antipornography ordinances unconstitutional. 75 During the 
period that FACT worked to defeat MacKinnon and Dworkin’s legislation, 
its membership insisted phrases such as “sexually explicit subordination of 
women” have no context-free, fixed meaning. 76 

FACT referred to the film Swept Away to show just how difficult it is to de- 
cide whether a particular scene or set of scenes depicts the sexually explicit sub- 
ordination of women. In the movie, an attractive, upper-class woman and a 
brawny, working-class man are shown, during the first half of the film, as class 
antagonists and then, during the second half of the film, as sexual antagonists 



70 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


when they are stranded on an island and the man exacts his revenge on the 
woman by repeatedly raping her. Initially, she resists him, but gradually she 
falls in love with him, and eventually, he with her. 

Because scenes in Swept Away clearly present the woman character as 
enjoying her own sexual humiliation, the film falls under a radical-cultural 
feminist definition of pornography and could have been suppressed, pending 
the outcome of a civil suit brought against its creators, manufacturers, and 
distributors. According to FACT, however, such suppression would have rep- 
resented censorship of the worst sort because the film challenged viewers to 
think seriously about precisely what does and does not constitute the sexu- 
ally explicit subordination of women. Critical and popular opinion of the 
film varied, ranging from admiration to repulsion. Whereas the reviewer for 
Ms. wrote that ‘“Swept Away’ comes to grips with the ‘war’ between the sexes 
better than anything” she had ever read or seen, the reviewer for the Progres- 
sive stated he did not know what was “more distasteful about the film — its 
slavish adherence to the barroom credo that what all women really want is to 
be beaten, to be shown who’s boss, or the readiness with which it has been 
accepted by the critics.” 77 FACT emphasized if two film critics can see the 
images and hear the words of Swept Away so differently, then contextual fac- 
tors, such as the critics’ own sexual fantasies and erotic impulses, must ulti- 
mately explain their divergent interpretations. What looks like the sexually 
explicit subordination of a woman to a radical-cultural feminist may, as far as 
the woman herself is concerned, be the height of sexual pleasure. 

Shocked by radical-libertarian feminists’ seeming acceptance of women’s 
sexual abuse, radical-cultural feminists accused radical-libertarian feminists of 
false consciousness, of buying the “bill of goods” men are only too eager to sell 
women. Bitter debates about sexuality broke out between radical-libertarian 
and radical-cultural feminists, reaching fever pitch at the 1982 Barnard Col- 
lege sexuality conference. A coalition of radical-libertarian feminists, including 
lesbian practitioners of sadomasochism and butch-femme relationships, bisex- 
uals, workers in the sex industry (prostitutes, porn models, exotic dancers), and 
heterosexual women eager to defend the pleasures of sex between consenting 
men and women, accused radical-cultural feminists of prudery. To this charge, 
radical-cultural feminists responded they were not prudes. On the contrary, 
they were truly free women who could tell the difference between “erotica,” 
where the term denotes sexually explicit depictions and descriptions of women 
being integrated, constituted, or focused during loving or at least life-affirming 
sexual encounters, and “thanatica,” where the term denotes sexually explicit 
depictions and descriptions of women being disintegrated, dismembered, or 
disoriented during hate-filled or even death-driven sexual encounters. 



The Lesbianism Controversy 7 1 


Radical-libertarian feminists faulted radical-cultural feminists for present- 
ing “vanilla” sex — gentle, touchy-feely, side-by-side (no one on the top or the 
bottom) sex — as the only kind of sex that is good for women. Why, asked 
radical-libertarian feminists, should we limit women, or men for that matter, 
to a particular “flavor” of sex? If women are given free rein, some may choose 
vanilla sex, but others may prefer “rocky-road” sex — encounters where pain 
punctuates pleasure, for example. No woman should be told that if she wants 
to be a true feminist, then she must limit herself to only certain sorts of sex- 
ual encounters. After all, if women’s sexuality is as “absent” as Catharine 
MacKinnon herself has claimed, 78 then it is premature for anyone, including 
radical-cultural feminists, to fill the vacuum with only their own ideas. Bet- 
ter that all sorts of women offer diverse descriptions of what they find truly 
pleasurable. To this line of reasoning, radical-cultural feminists again retorted 
that radical-libertarian feminists were not true feminists but deluded pawns 
of patriarchy who had willfully closed their ears to pornography’s women- 
hating message. Before too long, the Barnard conference collapsed, as the 
gulf between radical-libertarian and radical-cultural feminists widened. 

The Lesbianism Controversy 

Another topic that divided radical-libertarian feminists from radical-cultural 
feminists was lesbianism, particularly “separatist” lesbianism. Lesbianism 
fully surfaced as an issue within the women’s movement during the 1970s. 
Ironically, at the Second Congress to Unite Women, a group of women 
wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the label “lavender menace” staged a 
protest. The organizers of the conference had anticipated trouble due to the 
publication of Ann Koedt’s provocative essay “The Myth of the Vaginal 
Orgasm.” In this essay, Koedt claimed many women believe the orgasms 
they feel during heterosexual intercourse are vaginally caused when in fact 
they are clitorally stimulated. Koedt also claimed that many men fear “be- 
com[ing] sexually expendable if the clitoris is substituted for the vagina as 
the center of pleasure for women.” 79 Viewing men’s fear of “sexual expend- 
ability” as alarmist, Koedt noted that even if all women recognized they did 
not need men as sexual partners for physiological reasons, many women 
would still select men as sexual partners for psychological reasons. 80 

Radical-libertarian feminists interpreted Koedt as justifying women’s 
engagement in noncompulsory (freely chosen) heterosexuality. Since a 
woman does not need a male body to achieve sexual pleasure, she does not 
have to engage in sexual relations with a man unless she wants to. In contrast 
to radical-libertarian feminists, radical-cultural feminists interpreted Koedt 



72 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


as implying that since there is no physiological reason for a woman to have 
sex with a man, there is no feminist psychological reason for a woman to 
want to have sex with a man. Indeed, there are only nonfeminist psychologi- 
cal reasons for a woman to want to have sex with a man, the kind of bad rea- 
sons Adrienne Rich discussed in her essay on compulsory heterosexuality. 81 
Therefore, if a woman wants to be a true feminist, she must become a les- 
bian. She must do what comes “naturally,” thereby freeing her own con- 
sciousness from the false idea that she is deviant, abnormal, sick, crazy, or 
bad because she enjoys sex with women, not with men. 

For a time, the radical-cultural feminists’ interpretation of Koedt’s essay 
predominated in feminist circles, so much so that many heterosexual femi- 
nists felt deviant, abnormal, sick, crazy, or bad if they wanted to have sex 
with men. Deirdre English, a radical-libertarian feminist, reported she found 
it “fascinating and almost funny” 82 that so many heterosexual feminists 
“seemed to accept the idea that heterosexuality meant cooperating in their 
own oppression and that there was something wrong with being sexually 
turned on to men. How many times have I heard this? ‘Well, unfortunately, 
I’m not a lesbian but I wish I was, maybe I will be.’” 83 The so-called political 
lesbian was born: she who did not find herself erotically attracted to women 
but who tried as hard as possible to reorient her sexual impulses toward 
women and away from men. 

Radical-libertarian feminists agreed with radical-cultural feminists that 
heterosexuality is a flawed institution that has harmed many women. Still, 
radical libertarians insisted it would be just as wrong for radical-cultural fem- 
inists to impose lesbianism on women as it had been for patriarchy to impose 
heterosexuality on women. 84 Men having sex with women is not, in and of 
itself, bad for women, in radical-libertarian feminists’ estimation. Rather, 
what is bad for women is men having sex with women in a particular way: 
“fucking for a minute and a half and pulling out.” 85 Women can and do find 
pleasure in sex with men when men make women’s sexual satisfaction just as 
important as their own sexual satisfaction, said radical-libertarian feminists. 

Radical-libertarian feminists also stressed that individual men, as bad as 
they could be, were not women’s primary oppressors. On the contrary, 
women’s main enemy was the patriarchal system, the product of centuries of 
male privilege, priority, and prerogative. Thus, unlike those radical-cultural 
feminists who urged women to stop relating to men on all levels beginning 
with the sexual, radical-libertarian feminists did not press for a separatist 
agenda. On the contrary, radical-libertarian feminists urged women to con- 
front individual men about their chauvinistic attitudes and behaviors in an 
effort to get men freely to renounce the unfair privileges patriarchy had 



Reproduction, Men, and Women 73 


bestowed upon them. 86 These feminists recalled that even WITCH, one of 
the most militant feminist groups in the 1960s, had not urged women to 
renounce men or heterosexuality entirely but to relate to men only on gyno- 
centric terms: 

Witches have always been women who dared to be: groovy, courageous, 
aggressive, intelligent, nonconformist, explorative, curious, independent, sex- 
ually liberated, revolutionary. (This possibly explains why nine million of 
them have been burned.) Witches were the first Friendly Heads and Dealers, 
the first birth-control practitioners and abortionists, the first alchemists (turn 
dross into gold and you devalue the whole idea of money!). They bowed to 
no man, being the living remnants of the oldest culture of all — one in which 
men and women were equal sharers in a truly cooperative society before the 
death-dealing sexual, economic, and spiritual repression of the Imperialist 
Phallic Society took over and began to destroy nature and human society. 

WITCH lives and laughs in every woman. She is the free part of each of 
us, beneath the shy smiles, the acquiescence to absurd male domination, the 
make-up or flesh-suffocating clothing our sick society demands. There is no 
“joining” WITCH. If you are a woman and dare to look within yourself, you 
are a Witch. You make your own rules. You are free and beautiful. You can be 
invisible or evident in how you choose to make your witch-self known. You 
can form your own Coven of sister Witches (thirteen is a cozy number for a 
group) and do your own actions. 

You are pledged to free our brothers from oppression and stereotyped sex- 
ual roles (whether they like it or not) as well as ourselves. You are a Witch by 
saying aloud, “I am a Witch” three times, and thinking about that. You are a 
Witch by being female, untamed, angry joyous, and immortal. 87 

Thus, women in the 2000s, like women in the 1960s, do not have to live 
together on the fringes of society or to have sex only with each other in order 
to be liberated, according to today’s radical-libertarian feminists. Freedom 
comes to women as the result of women’s giving each other the power of self- 
definition and the energy to rebel continually against any individual man, 
group of men, or patriarchal institution seeking to disempower or otherwise 
weaken women. 

Reproduction, Men, and Women 

Not only do radical-libertarian and radical-cultural feminists have different 
views about sex, but they also have different ideas about reproduction. 



74 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


Whereas radical-libertarian feminists believe women should substitute arti- 
ficial for natural modes of reproduction, radical-cultural feminists believe 
it is in women’s best interests to procreate naturally. As we shall see, radi- 
cal-libertarian feminists are convinced the less women are involved in re- 
production, the more time and energy women will have to engage in 
society’s productive processes. In contrast, radical-cultural feminists are 
convinced the ultimate source of women’s power rests in their power to 
gestate new life. To take this power from a woman is to take away her 
trump card and to leave her with an empty hand, entirely vulnerable to 
men’s power. 


Natural Reproduction: The Site of Women ’s Oppression 

Firestone’s The Dialectic of Sex. In The Dialectic of Sex, Shulamith Fire- 
stone claimed that patriarchy, the systematic subordination of women, is 
rooted in the biological inequality of the sexes. Firestone’s reflections on 
women’s reproductive role led her to a feminist revision of the materialist 
theory of history offered by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Although 
Marx and Engels correctly focused on class struggle as the driving forces of 
history, they paid scant attention to what she termed “sex class.” Firestone 
proposed to make up for this oversight by developing a feminist version of 
historical materialism in which sex class, rather than economic class, is the 
central concept. 

To appreciate Firestone’s co-optation of Marxist method, we have only to 
contrast her definition of historical materialism with Engels’s definition of 
historical materialism, which is “that view of the course of history which 
seeks the ultimate cause and great moving power of all historical events in 
the economic development of society, in the changes of the modes of pro- 
duction and exchange, in the consequent division of society into distinct 
classes, and in the struggles of these classes against one another.” 88 Firestone 
reformulated his definition as follows: 

Historical materialism is that view of the course of history which seeks the 
ultimate cause and the great moving power of all historical events in the di- 
alectic of sex: the division of society into two distinct biological classes for 
procreative reproduction, and the struggles of these classes with one an- 
other; in the changes in the modes of marriage, reproduction and child care 
created by these struggles; in the connected development of other physi- 
cally-differentiated classes (castes); and in the first division of labor based 
on sex which developed into the (economic-cultural) class system. 89 



Reproduction, Men, and Women 75 


In other words, for Firestone, relations of reproduction rather than of pro- 
duction are the driving forces in history. The original class distinction is 
rooted in men’s and women’s differing reproductive roles; economic and 
racial class differences are derivatives of sex class differences. 

In much the same way that Marx concluded workers’ liberation requires an 
economic revolution, Firestone concluded women’s liberation requires a bio- 
logical revolution . 90 Like the proletariat who must seize the means of produc- 
tion to eliminate the economic class system, women must seize control of the 
means of reproduction to eliminate the sexual class system. Just as the ultimate 
goal of the communist revolution is, in a classless society, to obliterate class 
distinctions, the ultimate goal of the feminist revolution is, in an androgynous 
society, to obliterate sexual distinctions. As soon as technology overcomes the 
biological limits of natural reproduction, said Firestone, the biological fact 
that some persons have wombs and others have penises will “no longer matter 
culturally .” 91 Sexual intercourse will no longer be necessary for human repro- 
duction. Eggs and sperm will be combined in vitro, and embryos will be ges- 
tated outside of women’s bodies. 

No matter how much educational, legal, and political equality women 
achieve and no matter how many women enter public industry, Firestone 
insisted that nothing fundamental will change for women as long as natu- 
ral reproduction remains the rule and artificial or assisted reproduction the 
exception. Natural reproduction is neither in women’s best interests nor in 
those of the children so reproduced. The joy of giving birth — invoked so 
frequently in this society — is a patriarchal myth. In fact, pregnancy is “bar- 
baric,” and natural childbirth is “at best necessary and tolerable” and at 
worst “like shitting a pumpkin .” 92 Moreover, said Firestone, natural repro- 
duction is the root of further evils, especially the vice of possessiveness that 
generates feelings of hostility and jealousy among human beings. Engels’s 
Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State was incomplete not so 
much because he failed adequately to explain why men became the pro- 
ducers of surplus value, said Firestone, but because he failed adequately to 
explain why men wish so intensely to pass their property on to their biolog- 
ical children. The vice of possessiveness — the favoring of one child over an- 
other on account of the child’s being the product of one’s own ovum or 
sperm — is precisely what must be overcome if humans are to put an end to 
divisive hierarchies. 

Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time. Firestone’s last point was developed 
by Marge Piercy in her science fiction novel Woman on the Edge of Time . 93 
Piercy set the story of her utopia within the tale of Connie Ramos’s tragic 



76 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


life. Connie is a late-twentieth-century, middle-aged, lower-class Chicana 
with a history of what society describes as “mental illness” and “violent be- 
havior.” Connie has been trying desperately to support herself and her 
daughter, Angelina, on a pittance. One day, when she is near the point of ex- 
haustion, Connie loses her temper and hits Angelina too hard. As a result of 
this one outburst, the courts judge Connie an unfit mother and take her 
beloved daughter away from her. Depressed and despondent, angry and agi- 
tated, Connie is committed by her family to a mental hospital, where she is 
selected as a human research subject for brain-control experiments. Just 
when things can get no worse, Connie is psychically transported by a woman 
named Luciente to a future world called Mattapoisett — a world in which 
women are not defined in terms of reproductive functions and in which both 
men and women delight in rearing children. In Mattapoisett, there are nei- 
ther men nor women; rather, everyone is a “per” (short for person). 

What makes Piercy’s future world imaginable is artificial reproduction. In 
Mattapoisett, babies are born from the “brooder.” Female ova, fertilized in vitro 
with male sperm selected for a full range of racial, ethnic, and personality types, 
are gestated in an artificial placenta. Unable to comprehend why Mattapoisett 
women have rejected the experience that meant the most to her — physically 
gestating, birthing, and nursing an offspring — Connie is initially repelled by the 
brooder. She sees the embryos “all in a sluggish row . . . like fish in the aquar- 
ium.” 94 Not only does she regard these embryos as less than human, she pities 
them because no woman loves them enough to carry them in her own womb 
and, bleeding and sweating, bring them into the world. 

Eventually, Connie learns from Luciente that the women of Mattapoisett did 
not easily give up natural reproduction for artificial reproduction. They did so 
only when they realized natural reproduction was the ultimate cause of all isms, 
including sexism; “It was part of womens long revolution. When we were break- 
ing all the old hierarchies. Finally there was the one thing we had to give up too, 
the only power we ever had, in return for no power for anyone. The original pro- 
duction: the power to give birth. Cause as long as we were biologically en- 
chained, we’d never be equal. And males never would be humanized to be loving 
and tender. So we all became mothers. Every child has three. To break the nuc- 
lear bonding.” 95 Thus, as a result of womens giving up their monopoly on the 
power to give birth, the original paradigm for power relations was destroyed, 
and all residents of Mattapoisett found themselves in a position to reconstitute 
human relationships in ways that defied the hierarchical ideas of better-worse, 
higher-lower, stronger-weaker, and especially dominant-submissive. 

Piercy’s utopia is more radical than a Marxist utopia because the family is 
eliminated as a biological as well as an economic unit. Individuals possess 



Reproduction, Men, and Women 77 


neither private property nor private children. No one has his or her own 
genetic child. Children are not the possessions of their biological mothers 
and fathers, to be brought into this world in their parents’ image and likeness 
and reared according to their idiosyncratic values. Rather, children are pre- 
cious human resources for the entire community, to be treasured on account 
of their uniqueness. Each child is reared by three co-mothers (one man and 
two women or two men and one woman), who are assisted by “kidbinders,” 
a group of individuals who excel at mothering Mattapoisett’s children. 
Child-rearing is a communal effort, with each child having access to large- 
group experiences at childcare centers and small-group experiences in the 
separate dwellings of each of his or her co-mothers. 96 

Connie initially doubts that Mattapoisett’s system for begetting, bearing, 
and rearing children is all it is touted to be. She wonders whether co-mothers 
and kidbinders really love the children they rear. But gradually, she decides a 
biological relationship is not essential to good parenting. Indeed, she eventu- 
ally agrees that artificial reproduction is superior to natural reproduction be- 
cause it results in a truly nurturing and unselfish mode of mothering, totally 
separated from ambivalent feelings of resentment and guilt and always freely 
chosen. 

Natural Reproduction: The Site of Women ’s Liberation 

Marge Piercy Critiqued. As nicely as Piercy reformulated some of Fire- 
stone’s more controversial ideas, radical-cultural feminists nonetheless 
challenged her views as well as Firestone’s. Claiming that most women 
continue to view their life-giving abilities as empowering and enjoyable, 
radical-cultural feminists dismissed Mattapoisett as a social ideal that is 
both implausible and unintelligible to today’s women. Women should not 
give up biological motherhood for ex utero gestation, not now, not ever. 

Radical-cultural feminists insisted Mattapoisett is an implausible social 
ideal for today’s women because women’s oppression is not likely to end if 
women give up the only source of men’s dependence on them: “Technologi- 
cal reproduction,” said Azizah al-Hibri, “does not equalize the natural repro- 
ductive power structure — it inverts it. It appropriates the reproductive power 
from women and places it in the hands of men who now control both the 
sperm and the reproductive technology that could make it indispensable. 
... It ‘liberates’ them from their ‘humiliating dependency’ on women in or- 
der to propagate.” 97 Far from liberating women, reproductive technology 
further consolidates men’s power over women; it gives them the ability to 
have children without women’s aid. 



78 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


In addition to being an implausible social ideal for today’s women, Mat- 
tapoisett is, in the estimation of radical-cultural feminists, also an unintelli- 
gible social ideal to today’s women. Even though some women use other 
women’s eggs and wombs to procreate and some women adopt other 
women’s children, society continues to define a mother as someone who is 
genetically, gestationally, and socially related to the children she rears with 
or without a spouse or partner. Indeed, most women who go to infertility 
clinics do so because they want Connie’s experience of carrying a child nine 
months “heavy under their hearts,” bearing a baby “in blood” and nursing a 
child. 98 Thus, there is no way for women to decide in the abstract whether 
they should deprive themselves of a very meaningful present experience for 
a future experience they might or might not find equally meaningful. 

Firestone et al. Critiqued. Having dismissed Piercy’s “utopia” as an implau- 
sible and unintelligible world for today’s women, radical-cultural feminists 
proceeded to criticize Firestone’s master plan to achieve women’s liberation as 
a blueprint for women’s further enslavement. They claimed women’s oppres- 
sion was caused not by female biology in and of itself, but rather by men’s 
jealousy of women’s reproductive abilities and subsequent desire to seize con- 
trol of female biology through scientific and technological means. 99 

Viewing natural reproduction through the lens of male alienation from 
the gestational process and female immersion in it, radical-cultural feminist 
Mary O’Brien noted that until the introduction of artificial reproduction, 
the “reproductive consciousness” of a man differed from that of a woman in 
at least three ways. First, the woman experienced the process of procreation 
as one continuous movement taking place within her body, whereas the man 
experienced this same process as a discontinuous movement taking place out- 
side his body. After the act of sexual intercourse, through which he impreg- 
nated the woman, the man had no other procreative function. Second, the 
woman, not the man, necessarily performed the fundamental labor of repro- 
duction — pregnancy and birthing. At most the man could attend childbirth 
classes with the woman and try to imagine what being pregnant and giving 
birth feel like. Third, the woman’s connection to her child was certain — she 
knew, at the moment of birth, the child was flesh of her flesh. In contrast, 
the man’s connection to the child was uncertain; he could never be ab- 
solutely sure, even at the moment of birth, whether the child was in fact ge- 
netically related to him. For all he knew, the child was the genetic progeny of 
some other man. 100 

In radical-cultural feminists’ estimation, men’s alienation from natural re- 
production helps explain why men have played a smaller role in the life of 



Reproduction, Men, and Women 79 


the “product” of natural reproduction than women have. It also helps explain 
why men have sought to limit women’s reproductive powers. In Of Woman 
Born, Adrienne Rich noted men realize patriarchy cannot survive unless men 
are able to control women’s power to bring or not bring life into the world. 
Rich described how men took the birthing process into their own hands. 
Male obstetricians replaced female midwives, substituting their “hands of 
iron” (obstetrical forceps) for midwives’ hands of flesh (female hands sensi- 
tive to the female anatomy). 101 In addition, Rich cataloged the ways in 
which male physicians wrote the rules not only for giving birth but also for 
being pregnant. Male experts told women how to act during pregnancy — 
when to eat, sleep, exercise, have sex, and the like. In some instances, males 
even dictated to women how to feel during childbirth. The overall effect of 
men’s intrusion into the birthing process was to confuse women, since men’s 
“rules” for women’s pregnancies often clashed with women’s “intuitions” 
about what was best for their bodies, psyches, and babies. For example, when 
a woman and physician disagreed about whether she needed a cesarean sec- 
tion to deliver her baby, a woman did not know whether to trust the author- 
ity of her physician or the experience, the sensations, of her own body. 

To the degree they were deprived of control over their pregnancies, said 
Rich, women experienced pregnancy as a mere event, as something that sim- 
ply happened to them. Indeed, confessed Rich, she herself felt out of control 
and alienated during her pregnancy: 

When I try to return to the body of the young woman of twenty-six, 
pregnant for the first time, who fled from the physical knowledge of her 
pregnancy and at the same time from her intellect and vocation, I realize 
that I was effectively alienated from my real body and my real spirit by 
the institution — not the fact — of motherhood. This institution — the 
foundation of human society as we know it — allowed me only certain 
views, certain expectations, whether embodied in the booklet in my ob- 
stetrician’s waiting room, the novels I had read, my mother-in-law’s ap- 
proval, my memories of my own mother, the Sistine Madonna or she of 
the Michelangelo Pieta, the floating notion that a woman pregnant is a 
woman calm in her fulfillment or, simply, a woman waiting. 102 

Rich concluded that if they reclaimed their pregnancies from the author- 
ities, women would no longer have to sit passively waiting for their physi- 
cians to deliver their babies to them. Instead, women would actually direct 
the childbirth process, experiencing its pleasures as well as its pains. In 
Rich’s estimation, childbirth does not have to feel like “shitting a pumpkin.” 103 



80 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


On the contrary, it can feel a great deal more exhilarating and certainly far less 
dehumanizing. 

Rich’s concerns about the ways in which patriarchal authorities have used 
medical science to control women’s reproductive powers reached new 
heights in the works of Andrea Dworkin, Margaret Atwood, Genea Corea, 
and Robyn Rowland. Dworkin claimed infertility experts have joined gyne- 
cologists and obstetricians to seize control of women’s reproductive powers 
once and for all. She said artificial reproduction is patriarchy’s attempt to 
guarantee that women’s procreative experience is just as alienating as 
men’s. 104 With the introduction of in vitro fertilization and the use of surro- 
gate mothers, a woman’s experience of bringing a child into the world 
becomes discontinuous, especially if her only contribution to this process is 
the donation of her egg. Moreover, the woman who relies on artificial repro- 
duction to procreate can be no more certain than her male partner that the 
child born to them is indeed their genetic child. For all she knows, the 
embryo transplanted into her womb is not her and her mate’s embryo but 
the embryo of some other couple. Finally, should scientists develop an arti- 
ficial placenta, women’s “labor” would no longer be needed to complete the 
procreative process. Speculating that patriarchal society might view a repro- 
ductively useless woman as somebody good only for sex work or domestic 
work, Dworkin urged women to resist the further development of repro- 
ductive technology. 

Concerns such as Dworkin’s are one of the inspirations for Margaret 
Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, xoe> a work of feminist science fiction in stark con- 
trast to Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time. In the Republic of 
Gilead, Atwood’s antiutopia, women are reduced to one of four functions. 
There are the Marthas, or domestics; the Wives, or social secretaries and 
functionaries; the Jezebels, or sex prostitutes; and the Handmaids, or repro- 
ductive prostitutes. One of the most degrading Gileadean practices, from a 
woman’s perspective, is a ritualistic form of sexual intercourse in which the 
so-called Commander pretends to have sex with his Wife. The Wife, who is 
infertile, lies down on a bed with her legs spread open. The Wife’s Hand- 
maid, one of the few fertile women in Gilead, puts her head between the 
spread legs of the Wife. Then the Commander engages in sexual intercourse 
with the Handmaid. If the Handmaid gets pregnant, the Commander and 
his Wife lay claim to the child she is gestating. Adding to the oddity of this 
arrangement is the fact that on the day the Handmaid gives birth to the 
child, the Wife simulates labor pains, as other Wives and Handmaids in 
Gilead gather round the Wife and her Handmaid in a rare moment of “female 
bonding.” 



Reproduction, Men, and Women 8 1 


After one such birth day, the central character, Offred — whose name literally 
means “to be of Fred” — recalls better times and speaks in her mind to her 
mother, who had been a feminist leader: “Can you hear me? You wanted a 
womans culture. Well, now there is one. It isn’t what you meant, but it exists. 
Be thankful for small mercies.” 106 Of course, they are very small mercies, for 
with the exception of birth days — those rare occasions when a Handmaid man- 
ages to produce a child — women have little contact with each other. The 
Marthas, Wives, Jezebels, and Handmaids are segregated from one another, and 
the contact women do have — even within an assigned class — is largely silent, 
for women are permitted to speak to each other only when absolutely necessary. 

Like Dworkin and Atwood, Genea Corea was suspicious of what the new 
reproductive technologies and their concomitant social arrangements prom- 
ise women. Corea claimed if men control the new reproductive technologies, 
men will use them not to empower women but to further empower them- 
selves. To reinforce her point, she drew provocative analogies between Count 
Dracula and Robert Edwards, one of the codevelopers of in vitro fertiliza- 
tion. Correa suggested that just as Dracula never had enough blood to drink, 
Edwards never had enough eggs to use in experiments. Indeed, Edwards rou- 
tinely attended the hysterectomies his colleagues performed for the sole pur- 
pose of collecting the eggs they discarded after the surgeries. 107 Fearing that 
male infertility experts like Edwards do not have women’s best interests at 
heart, Corea ended her essay “Egg Snatchers” with a series of questions for all 
women to ask themselves: 

Why are men focusing all this technology on woman’s generative organs — 
the source of her procreative power? Why are they collecting our eggs? Why 
do they seek to freeze them? 

Why do men want to control the production of human beings? Why do 
they talk so often about producing “perfect” babies? 

Why are they splitting the functions of motherhood into smaller parts? 
Does that reduce the power of the mother and her claim to the child? (“I only 
gave the egg. I am not the real mother.” “I only loaned my uterus. I am not 
the real mother.” “I only raised the child. I am not the real mother.”) 108 

Agreeing with Dworkin, Atwood, and Corea that the new reproductive 
technologies will simply increase men’s control over women, Robyn Row- 
land, another radical-cultural feminist, pointed to the work of microbiologist 
John Postgate as an example of the form this new power over women might 
take. In an interview with Rowland, Postgate, who wanted to control the size 
of the human population, proposed the development of a “manchild pill,” 



82 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


which would ensure the conception of boys. Girls would become scarce and 
the birthrate would inevitably plunge. Postgate conceded that under such 
circumstances men would probably start to fight each other for the sexual 
and reproductive services of society’s few remaining women. Women would 
need to be sequestered for their own good while society developed rules for a 
system of male access to them. 109 

As if a vision of a future world in which the term “trophy wife” denotes an 
even uglier reality than it does now is not bad enough, Rowland imagined an 
even worse scenario: a world in which only a few superovulating women are 
permitted to exist, a world in which eggs are taken from women, frozen, and 
inseminated in vitro for transfer into artificial placentas. The replacement of 
women’s childbearing capacity by male-controlled technology would, she 
said, leave women entirely vulnerable, “without a product” with which “to 
bargain” with men: “For the history of ‘mankind’ women have been seen in 
terms of their value as childbearers. We have to ask, if that last power is taken 
and controlled by men, what role is envisaged for women in the new 
world?” 110 

Unlike radical-libertarian feminists, radical-cultural feminists urged 
women not to forsake their power to bring new life into the world. Only 
oppressive forms of power need to be forsaken, and according to radical- 
cultural feminists, women’s reproductive powers are anything but oppres- 
sive. On the contrary, women’s life-giving capacities are the paradigm for 
the ability of people to connect with one another in a caring, supportive 
relationship. 

Libertarian and Cultural Views on Mothering 

Although commentators do not always make adequate distinctions be- 
tween biological and social motherhood, these two dimensions of mother- 
ing need to be distinguished. If we accept Alison Jaggar’s extension of the 
term mothering to “any relationship in which one individual nurtures and 
cares for another,” 111 then a person does not need to be a biological mother 
to be a social mother. Nevertheless, patriarchal society teaches its members 
that the woman who bears a child is best suited to rear him or her. In view- 
ing this tenet as one that often places unreasonable demands on women’s 
bodies and energies, radical-libertarian feminists have tended to make 
strong arguments against biological motherhood. Not surprisingly, many 
radical-cultural feminists have challenged these arguments, insisting no 
woman should, in an act of unreflective defiance against patriarchy, deprive 
herself of the satisfaction that comes from not only bearing a child but also 



Libertarian atid Cultural Views on Mothering 83 


playing a major role in his or her personal development. As we shall see, 
the arguments on both sides of this debate are powerful. 

The Case Against Biological Motherhood 

There are at least two versions of the radical-libertarian feminist case against 
biological motherhood: a weaker, more general version offered by Ann Oak- 
ley, and a stronger, more specific version offered by Shulamith Firestone. As 
Oakley saw it, biological motherhood is a myth based on the threefold belief 
that “all women need to be mothers, all mothers need their children, all chil- 
dren need their mothers.” 112 

The first assertion, that all women need to be mothers, gains its credibil- 
ity, according to Oakley, from the ways in which girls are socialized and from 
popular psychoanalytic theory that provides “pseudo-scientific backing” for 
this process of socialization. If parents did not give their daughters dolls; if 
the schools, the churches, and the media did not stress the wonders of bio- 
logical motherhood; if psychiatrists, psychologists, and physicians did not do 
everything in their power to transform “abnormal” girls (i.e. , “masculine” 
girls, who do not want to be mothers) into “normal” girls (i.e., “feminine” 
girls, who do want to be mothers), then girls would not grow into women 
who need to mother in order to have a sense of self-worth. For Oakley, 
women’s supposed need to mother “owes nothing” to women’s “possession of 
ovaries and wombs” and everything to the way in which women are socially 
and culturally conditioned to be mothers. 113 

The second assertion, that mothers need their children, is based on the 
belief that unless a woman’s “maternal instinct” is satisfied, she will be- 
come increasingly frustrated. In Oakley’s view, there is no such thing as 
maternal instinct. Women do not naturally experience a desire to have a 
biological child, and there are no hormonally based drives that “irre- 
sistibly draw the mother to her child in the tropistic fashion of the moth 
drawn to the flame” 114 during and after pregnancy. To support her con- 
tention that the “instinct” for mothering is learned, Oakley pointed to a 
study in which 150 first-time mothers were observed. Few of these 
women knew how to breast-feed, and those who did had seen either their 
own mother or some other female relative nursing a baby. Additionally, 
Oakley noted that most women who abuse or neglect their children were 
themselves abused or neglected as children. Never having seen a woman 
mothering properly, these women never learned the behavior repertoire 
society associates with adequate mothering. Mothers, in short, are not 
born; they are made. 115 



84 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


The third assertion, that children need their mothers, is, according to 
Oakley, the most oppressive feature of the myth of biological motherhood. 
Oakley noted that this assertion contains three assumptions unnecessarily ty- 
ing women to children: first, that children’s mothering needs are best met by 
their biological mothers; second, that children, especially young children, 
need the care of their biological mothers much more than the care of anyone 
else, including their biological fathers; and third, that children need one nur- 
turant caretaker (preferably the biological mother), not many. 116 

As Oakley saw it, each of these three assumptions (in support of the asser- 
tion children need their mothers) is false. First, social mothers are just as ef- 
fective as biological mothers. Studies have shown, claimed Oakley, that 
adopted children are at least as well adjusted as nonadopted children. 117 Sec- 
ond, children do not need their biological mothers more than children need 
their biological fathers. Men no less than women can play the major role in 
their children’s upbringing. What children need are adults with whom to es- 
tablish intimate relationships — trustworthy and dependable persons who 
provide children with consistent care and discipline. Finally, one-on-one 
child-rearing is not necessarily better than collective socialization or “multi- 
ple mothering.” Children reared in Israeli kibbutzim, for example, are just as 
happy, intelligent, emotionally mature, and socially adept as children reared 
exclusively by their biological mothers in U.S. suburbs. 118 

In Oakley’s estimation, being a biological mother is not a natural need of 
women any more than being reared by one’s biological mother is a natural 
need of children. Therefore, she concluded biological motherhood is a social 
construction, a myth with an oppressive purpose. Not wanting to be accused 
of selfishness and even abnormality, women who would be happier not hav- 
ing children at all become mothers reluctantly; and women who would be 
happier sharing their child-rearing responsibilities with one or more nurtu- 
rant adults make of mothering an exclusive and twenty-four-hour- a-day job. 
No wonder, said Oakley, so many mothers are unhappy — an unhappiness 
made all the worse because society looks with disfavor on any mother who 
expresses dissatisfaction with her all-consuming maternal role. 

Although Shulamith Firestone’s negative assessment of biological mother- 
hood did not substantively differ from Oakley’s, it was harsher in tone. In 
The Dialectic of Sex, Firestone suggested the desire to bear and rear children 
is less the result of an “authentic liking” for children and more a “displace- 
ment” of ego-extension needs. For a man, a child is a way to immortalize his 
name, property, class, and ethnic identification; for a woman, a child is a 
way to justify her homebound existence as absolutely meaningful. At times, 
a father’s need for immortality or a mother’s need for meaning becomes 



Libertarian atid. Cultural Views on Mothering 85 


pathological. When this happens, said Firestone, the less-than-perfect child 
inevitably suffers. 119 

Firestone believed that if adults, especially women, did not feel they had a 
duty to have children, they might discover in themselves an authentic desire 
to live in close association with children. People do not need to be biological 
parents to lead child-centered lives, said Firestone. Ten or more adults could 
agree, for example, to live with three or four children for as long as the chil- 
dren needed a stable family structure. During their years together, the people 
in this household would relate not as parents and children but as older and 
younger friends. Firestone did not think adults have a natural desire to be 
any closer to children than this kind of household arrangement permits. In- 
stead, she believed adults have been socialized to view biological reproduc- 
tion as life’s raison d’etre because without this grandiose sense of mission and 
destiny, the pains of childbearing and the burdens of child-rearing would 
have proved overwhelming. Now that technology promises to liberate the 
human species from the burdens of reproductive responsibility, Firestone 
predicted women will no longer want to bear children in pain and travail or 
rear children endlessly and self-sacrificially. Rather, women and men will 
want to spend some, though by no means most, of their time and energy 
with and on children. 120 

The Case for Biological Motherhood 

Although Adrienne Rich agreed with some of Firestone’s analysis, she criti- 
cized Firestone for condemning biological motherhood “without taking full 
account of what the experience of biological pregnancy and birth might be 
in a wholly different political and emotional context.” 121 Throughout Of 
Woman Born, Rich sharply distinguished between biological motherhood 
understood as “the potential relationship of any woman to her powers of re- 
production and to children” and biological motherhood understood as “the 
institution, which aims at ensuring that that potential — and all women — 
shall remain under male control.” 122 As Rich saw it, there is a world of differ- 
ence between womens deciding who, how, when, and where to mother and 
men’s making these decisions for women. 

Rich agreed with Firestone that biological motherhood, as it has been 
institutionalized under patriarchy, is definitely something from which 
women should be liberated. If success is measured in terms of patriarchy’s 
ability to determine not only women’s gender behavior but also their gen- 
der identity through “force, direct pressure . . . ritual, tradition, law and 
language, customs, etiquette, education, and the division of labor,” then 



86 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


institutionalized biological motherhood is one of patriarchy’s overwhelm- 
ing successes. 123 Men have convinced women that unless a woman is a 
mother, she is not really a woman, said Rich. Indeed, until relatively 
recently, the forces of patriarchy convinced most women that mothering 
is their one and only job. This view of women’s role is very restricting. It 
blocks women’s access to the public realm of culture, and it fails to 
acknowledge women’s right to have and to fulfill their own wants and 
needs. Good mothers are not supposed to have any personal friends or 
plans unrelated to those of their families. They are supposed to be on the 
job twenty-four hours a day and love every minute of it. Ironically, 
observed Rich, it is just this expectation that causes many women to act in 
anything but “motherly” ways. The constant needs of a child can tax a 
mother’s patience and, with no relief from the child’s father or any other 
adult, make her feel angry, frustrated, and bitter: “I remember being up- 
rooted from already meager sleep to answer a childish nightmare, pull up 
a blanket, warm a consoling bottle, lead a half-asleep child to the toilet. I 
remember going back to bed starkly awake, brittle with anger, knowing 
that my broken sleep would make the next day hell, that there would be 
more nightmares; more need for consolation, because out of my weariness 
I would rage at those children for no reason.” 124 Rich’s point was not that 
mothers do not love their children but that no person can be expected to 
remain always cheerful and kind unless the person’s own physical and psy- 
chological needs are satisfactorily met. 

Rich also argued eloquently that the institution of biological motherhood 
prevents women from rearing their children as women think they should be 
reared. She recounted squabbles with her own husband about the best way 
to raise their two sons. She also recalled mothering his way even though she 
knew full well that father did not always know best. Under patriarchy, she 
wrote, most men have demanded sons for the wrong reasons: “as heirs, 
field-hands, cannon-fodder, feeders of machinery, images and extensions of 
themselves; their immortality.” 125 What is worse, most husbands have de- 
manded their wives help them raise their sons to be “real men” — that is, 
“macho” or hyperaggressive and supercompetitive men. Rich happily re- 
called a seashore vacation she spent with her two boys, but without her hus- 
band. While vacationing alone, she and her children lived spontaneously for 
several weeks, ignoring most of the established rules of patriarchy. They ate 
the wrong food at the wrong time. They stayed up past the proper bedtime. 
They wore the wrong clothes. They giggled at silly jokes. Through all of 
these “trespasses” against the rules of the father, they were enormously 
happy. Indeed, suggested Rich, were fathers told they do not know best, 



Libertarian atid. Cultural Views on Mothering 87 


then mothers would find child-rearing energizing rather than enervating, 
joyful rather than miserable. 

As Rich saw it, if women took control of child-rearing as well as child- 
bearing, more mothers would experience biological motherhood on their 
own terms. Rich insisted no woman should renounce, in the name of “liber- 
ation,” what female biology has to offer: 

I have come to believe . . . that female biology — the diffuse, intense sensu- 
ality radiating out from clitoris, breasts, uterus, vagina; the lunar cycles of 
menstruation; the gestation and fruition of life which can take place in the 
female body — has far more radical implications than we have yet come to 
appreciate. Patriarchal thought has limited female biology to its own nar- 
row specifications. The feminist vision has recoiled from female biology 
for these reasons; it will, I believe, come to view our physicality as a re- 
source, rather than a destiny. In order to live a fully human life we require 
not only control of our bodies (though control is a prerequisite); we must 
touch the unity and resonance of our physicality, our bond with the natu- 
ral order, the corporeal ground of our intelligence. 126 

According to Rich, Firestone was wrong to argue that female biology is 
necessarily limiting and that the only way to liberate women from this limi- 
tation is through reproductive technology. In a patriarchal society, the solu- 
tion to the pains of childbearing is not reproductive technology but rather 
for a woman to ride with, not against, her body. A woman must not give up 
on her body before she has had a chance to use it as she thinks best. Likewise, 
the solution to the impositions of child-rearing in a patriarchal society is not 
the renunciation of children; the solution is for every woman to rear children 
with feminist values. 

Genetics, Gestational, and Rearing Connections 

The attention of radical-cultural feminists and radical-libertarian feminists 
has recently centered on surrogate, or contracted, motherhood — an arrange- 
ment in which a third party is hired and usually paid to bear a child who will 
be reared by someone else. 127 The birth mother (the woman whose gesta- 
tional services have been contracted) is either the full biological mother of 
the child (both the genetic and the gestational mother) or the gestational but 
not the genetic mother of the child. 

In general, radical-cultural feminists oppose contracted motherhood on 
the grounds it creates destructive divisions among women. One such division 



88 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


is between economically privileged women and economically disadvantaged 
women. The privileged can hire the disadvantaged to meet the former’s repro- 
ductive needs, adding gestational services to the child-rearing services poor 
women traditionally have provided to rich women. The second division is one 
Genea Corea envisioned, namely, among child-begetters, child-bearers, and 
child-rearers. According to Corea, reproduction is currently being segmented 
and specialized as if it were simply a mode of production. In the future, no 
one woman will beget, bear, and rear a child. Rather, genetically superior 
women will beget embryos in vitro; strong-bodied women will bear these test- 
tube babies to term; and sweet-tempered women will rear these newborns 
from infancy to adulthood. 128 As a result of this division of labor, a dystopia 
similar to the one Atwood described in The Handmaid’s Tale could actually 
come into existence, complete with divisive female-female relationships. No 
woman was whole in Gilead; all individual women were reduced to parts or 
aspects of the monolith, Woman. 

In addition to lamenting the ways in which contracted motherhood 
might harm women’s relationships to each other and to their children, radi- 
cal-cultural feminists bemoan its rooting of parental rights either in persons’ 
genetic contribution to the procreative process or in persons’ professed in- 
tention to rear children. Basing parental rights exclusively on genetic contri- 
bution means if a surrogate mother is genetically unrelated to the child in 
her womb, she has no parental rights to it after it is born. Only if she is the 
genetic as well as the gestational mother of the child does she have grounds 
for claiming parental rights to it — rights that have to be balanced against 
those of the child’s genetic father. In contrast, basing parental rights exclu- 
sively on one or more persons’ professed intention to rear the child implies 
that because the surrogate mother has expressed no such intentions, she has 
no grounds for claiming parental rights to the child even if she is genetically 
related to the child. 

According to radical-cultural feminists, men have reason to base all 
parental rights on either genes or intentions. After all, until the time a man 
takes an active part in the rearing of his child, the only kind of relationship 
he can have with his child is a genetic or an intentional one. Unlike his wife 
or other female partner, he cannot experience the kind of relationship a preg- 
nant woman can experience with her child. For this reason, observe radical- 
cultural feminists, patriarchal society unfairly dismisses the gestational 
relationship as unimportant, as a mere biological event with no special 
parental meaning. But the truth of the matter, continue radical-cultural fem- 
inists, is that the gestational connection is of extraordinary importance. It is 
the child’s gestator who proves through her concrete actions, some of which 



Libertarian atid Cultural Views on Mothering 89 


may cause her inconvenience and even pain, that she is actually committed 
to the child’s well-being. As radical-cultural feminists see it, when parental 
claims are in question, the kind of lived commitment a gestational parent has 
to a child should count at least as much as the kind of contemplated commit- 
ment a genetic or an intentional parent has to a child. 

Radical-libertarian feminists disagree with radical-cultural feminists’ as- 
sessment of contracted motherhood, arguing that contracted motherhood 
arrangements, if handled properly, can bring women closer together rather 
than drive them farther apart. These feminists note some contracted mothers 
and commissioning couples live near each other so they can all share in the 
rearing of the child whom they have collaboratively reproduced. 129 Thus, 
contracted motherhood need not be viewed as the male-directed and male- 
manipulated specialization and segmentation of the female reproductive pro- 
cess but as women getting together (as in the case of the postmenopausal 
South African mother who carried her daughter’s in vitro fetus to term) to 
achieve, in unison, something they could not achieve without each other’s 
help. 130 As long as women control collaborative-reproduction arrangements, 
contracted motherhood increases rather than decreases women’s reproductive 
freedom, in radical-libertarian feminists’ estimation. 

Believing it does women a disservice to overstate the importance of the ges- 
tational connection, radical-libertarian feminists object to the radical-cultural 
feminist position on contracted motherhood for two reasons. First, if women 
want men to spend as much time caring for children as women now do, then 
women should not repeatedly remind men of women’s special connection to 
infants. Doing so implies that women are more suited to parenting tasks than 
men are. Second, if women want to protect their bodily integrity from the 
forces of state coercion, then women should not stress the symbiotic nature of 
the maternal-fetal connection. Increasingly aware of pregnant women’s power 
to affect the well-being of their fetuses during the gestational process, society is 
more and more eager to control the pregnancies of “bad gestators.” If a preg- 
nant woman harms her fetus by drinking large quantities of alcohol or using 
illicit drugs, concerned citizens will urge that she be treated, voluntarily or 
involuntarily, for her addictions. Should treatment fail, many of these same cit- 
izens will become more aggressive in their demands; they will recommend that 
the state punish the “bad gestator” for negligendy, recklessly, or intentionally 
engaging in life-style behavior resulting in serious, largely irreparable damage 
to her future child. Society will brand such a woman as a “fetal abuser” or “fetal 
neglecter.” For this reason, if no other, radical-libertarian feminists believe the 
less that women emphasize how “special” the mother-fetus relationship is, the 
better served will women’s interests be. 



90 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


Critiques of Radical-Libertarian and Radical-Cultural 
Feminism 

In many ways, radical-libertarian and radical-cultural feminists are each others 
best critics, but they are certainly not each others only critics. Nonradical fem- 
inists have directed much in the way of criticism against both the “libertarian” 
and the “cultural” wings of radical feminist thought. These critics have faulted 
radical-libertarian feminism for the same reason they have faulted liberal femi- 
nism — namely, for its insistence on making everything a “choice” when in fact 
women’s ability to choose is enormously constrained in a patriarchal context. 
In contrast, these same critics have faulted radical-cultural feminism for pro- 
pounding so-called essentialism, the view that men and women are fundamen- 
tally and perhaps irrevocably different because of their natures. 

In an effort to avoid redundancy, I direct readers to the critiques of liberal 
feminism at the end of Chapter 1. That discussion about women’s limited 
ability to choose applies almost as well to radical-libertarian feminist thought 
as to liberal feminist thought. I do, however, want to add here Jean Bethke 
Elshtain’s critique of radical-cultural feminism. Her views on essentialism 
merit considerable thought. In addition, I want to describe how both radical- 
libertarian and radical-cultural feminists sometimes unnecessarily polarize is- 
sues related to sex, reproduction, and biological motherhood. 

Woman’s “Goodness”? 

Jean Bethke Elshtain claimed radical-cultural feminists are wrong to suggest 
males and females are, on either the biological or the ontological level, two 
kinds of creatures: the men corrupt and the women innocent. Such a biology 
or ontology denies the unique and fascinating history of individual men and 
women. It implies that what is most important about individuals is not their 
specific lives but some sort of abstract a priori essence they share. 

Falling into the trap of essentialism — the conviction that men are men and 
women are women and that there is no way to change either’s nature — is both 
an analytic dead end and a political danger, in Elshtain’s estimation. Essentialist 
claims about what makes certain groups of people the way they are (e.g., 
women, blacks, Jews) are the political-philosophical constructs of conservatism. 
The history of essentialist arguments is one of oppressors telling the oppressed 
to accept their lot in life because “that’s just the way it is.” Essentialist arguments 
were used to justify slavery, to resist the Nineteenth Amendment (which gave 
women the vote), and to sustain colonialism. By presenting women as a priori 
nurturing and life-giving and men as a priori corrupt and obsessed with death, 



Critiques of Radical-Libertarian and Radical-Cultural Feminism 9 1 


said Elshtain, radical-cultural feminists fall into the trap of doing unto others 
that which they do not want done unto themselves and other oppressed 
groups. 131 

Elshtain urged radical-cultural feminists to overthrow the categories that 
entrap women (and men) in rigid roles. Roles, she said, are simplistic defini- 
tions that make every man an exploiter and oppressor and every woman a 
victim. The fact is, not every woman is a victim and not every man is an ex- 
ploiter and oppressor. Elshtain cited Mary Beard’s Women As a Force in FLis- 
tory (a liberal feminist text charting women’s role in shaping preindustrial 
culture) 132 and Sheila Rowbotham’s Women, Resistance and Revolution (a 
Marxist feminist text detailing women’s involvement in twentieth-century 
revolutions) 133 to support her view that women have played strong and 
active roles in social history. She also pointed to examples of men who have 
supported women in their liberation struggles. 134 According to Elshtain, 
essentialism in any form has no place in the complex world we live in. 

Also at issue in Elshtain’s critique is the radical-cultural feminist under- 
standing of patriarchy. Elshtain faulted Mary Daly for implying that no mat- 
ter when and where it appears, patriarchy, be it in the form of Elindu suttee, 
Chinese foot binding, African female circumcision, or Western gynecology, 
is about men’s hating women. To claim all these various practices boil down 
to the same thing, said Elshtain, is to show little or no awareness of the rich 
diversity of different societies. 135 As a Western feminist searching for signs of 
patriarchy in Asia and Africa, Daly was sometimes unaware of her own cul- 
tural baggage. As an outsider, she was not always privy to the contextual 
meaning certain rituals and customs have for their female participants. 
Female circumcision is a case in point. For Daly, this practice is about men’s 
depriving women of a wide range of sexual experiences; for the women cir- 
cumcised, it may mean something different — for example, a rite of passage 
into a much-coveted womanhood or a means of rebelling against civilized, 
Christian, colonial powers. To Daly’s objection that these women are not 
ready, willing, or able to see the harm men are doing to them, Elshtain 
responded it might be Daly’s vision rather than these women’s that is 
clouded. Indeed, Daly’s failure to acknowledge the possibility that certain 
African and Asian rituals have positive, non-Western meanings suggests a cer- 
tain ethnocentrism on her part. 136 

Admitting that Daly and other radical-cultural feminists may have wanted 
to stress the metaphorical rather than the historical meaning of patriarchy, 
Elshtain conceded that, as a metaphorical term, patriarchy carries a certain 
emotional force and lends direction to women searching for a point of attack. 
Nevertheless, Elshtain claimed the concept of patriarchy is troubling, even in 



92 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


its strictly metaphorical capacity. To be sure, she said, the term patriarchy is a 
useful analytical tool for women who are just beginning to rethink their polit- 
ical and personal experiences of oppression. But beyond this, patriarchy 
becomes a blunt instrument. If chanted incessantly, the formula “men over 
women; women for men” becomes monotonous and even meaningless. In 
Elshtain’s estimation, the tendency of radical-cultural feminists to view all 
patriarchies as equally evil (women-hating, misogynistic) contributes to the 
“broken record effect” characterizing some feminist texts. 137 

Elshtain speculated that the absolute condemnation of patriarchy by radi- 
cal feminists might be rooted in their fear that women may have certain 
things — even ugly things — in common with the men. Unable to accept their 
own “masculine” qualities, radical-cultural feminists project these rejected 
qualities onto men in order to shield themselves from the more troubling 
parts of their own personalities. This defensiveness, said Elshtain, then leads 
radical-cultural feminists toward a utopian vision of an all-women commu- 
nity. Man encompasses evil; woman encompasses good. Because the essence 
of womanhood is supposedly about the positive force of “power-to” rather 
than the negative force of “power-over,” a world of women will be warm, 
supportive, nurturing, and full of creativity. It will be a return to the womb. 
Only men are holding women back. 

Elshtain believed if her critique was on target, radical-cultural feminists 
were in for a grave disappointment. Given that women as well as men are 
human beings, vice as well as virtue will inevitably appear in an all-women 
community. Elshtain asked radical-cultural feminists to reconsider the con- 
cept of “pure voice” — the idea that the victim, in her status as victim, speaks 
in a pure voice — “I suffer, therefore I have moral purity.” 138 This belief about 
women’s moral purity is exactly what Victorian men used to keep women on 
pedestals, away from the world of politics and economics; Elshtain was dis- 
tressed that twentieth-century radical-cultural feminists had not expanded 
beyond this nineteenth-century male notion. 

Beyond Polarization ? 

In the estimation of socialist feminists such as Ann Ferguson, radical-libertarian 
and radical-cultural feminists need to heal the split between themselves to avoid 
unnecessary polarization. As emphasized above, Ferguson stressed that despite 
their reservations about male-female sexual relationships, radical-libertarian 
feminists still believed consensual (noncompulsory) heterosexuality could be 
just as pleasurable for women as for men. In addition to celebrating consensual 
heterosexuality, radical-libertarian feminists affirmed the “liberated sexuality” of 



Critiques of Radical-Libertarian and Radical-Cultural Feminism 93 


lesbians — a form of sexual expression in which equal partners aim to mutually 
satisfy each others sexual needs. 

Contrasting radical-libertarian feminists with radical-cultural feminists, 
Ferguson noted that the latter group not only stressed the dangers of hetero- 
sexuality but also implied there is no such thing as consensual heterosexual- 
ity — that is, mutually desired sex between men and women who treat each 
other as equals. Only lesbians are capable of consensual sex in a patriarchal 
society. Whenever a man and a woman have sex in a patriarchal society, the 
man will, more or less, use sex as an instrument to control the woman. He 
will have his way with her, even if it means raping her, beating her, or reduc- 
ing her to a sex object. In contrast, whenever two women have sex, to the 
extent their psyches have escaped the norms of patriarchal society, they will 
experience the “erotic” as that which resides not only in women’s physical 
desire for each other but also in their emotional bonding and connections to 
each other. Supposedly, female sexuality is essentially about emotional inti- 
macy, whereas male sexuality is essentially about physical pleasure; it is the 
kind of love that women would have had for each other had not the institu- 
tion of “compulsory heterosexuality” forced them to redirect their original 
love for their mothers to men. 139 

According to Ferguson, both the radical-libertarian and the radical-cultural 
feminist perspectives on sexuality fail on account of their ahistoricity. There is, 
she said, no one universal “function” for human sexuality, whether it is con- 
ceived as emotional intimacy or as physical pleasure. 140 Rather, “sexuality is a 
bodily energy whose objects, meaning and social values are historically con- 
structed.” 141 Thus, radical-cultural feminists are wrong to posit an essential 
female sexuality that for all practical purposes amounts to a certain form of 
lesbian sexuality. 

Ferguson used her own sexuality as a case study in the historical construction 
of human sexuality in general. She observed that her lesbianism is no more 
based on the fact that her “original,” or first, sexual object was her mother than 
on the fact that her second sexual object was her father. Rather, what explains 
her current way of loving is “first, the historical and social contexts in my teen- 
age years which allowed me to develop a first physical love relationship with a 
woman; and, second, the existence of a strong self-identified lesbian-feminist 
oppositional culture today which allowed me to turn toward women again from 
an adult life hitherto exclusively heterosexual.” 142 Ferguson speculated that had 
she grown up in a more restricted sexual environment or in a less feminist era, 
she probably would not have wanted to have lesbian lovers. After all, she said, 
“One’s sexual objects are defined by the social contexts in which one’s ongoing 
gender identity is constructed in relation to one’s peers.” 143 



94 Chapter 2: Radical Feminism 


Like radical-cultural feminists, radical-libertarian feminists are guilty of ahis- 
toricism, in Ferguson’s estimation, but in a different way. Radical-libertarian 
feminists seem to think that a woman is always able to give free or true consent. 
Thus, radical-libertarian feminist Gayle Rubin claimed if a woman experiences 
herself as consenting to heterosexual or lesbian sadomasochism or bondage and 
domination, then she is consenting to these practices. No one has a right to crit- 
icize her as a “victim of false consciousness,” a person who fails to realize that 
were she truly a man’s equal, she would have nothing to do with any form of 
sexuality that eroticizes dominance-and-subordination relationships. But in Fer- 
guson’s estimation, depending on this woman’s “social context,” the woman 
may in fact be a “victim of false consciousness.” The “freedom” of an economi- 
cally dependent housewife to consent to S/M sex with her husband must be 
challenged; so, too, must the “freedom” of a teenage prostitute to consent to sex 
with a man far older and richer than she. 144 

Issues of real versus apparent consent arise just as frequently in the repro- 
ductive arena as they do in the sexual realm. Radical-libertarian feminists like 
Firestone and Rubin would probably accept as a real choice a woman’s deci- 
sion to sell her gestational services. No doubt they would view such a decision 
as helping to erode the institution of biological motherhood, which maintains 
that she who bears a child should rear the child not only because she is best 
suited for this task but also because she wants to do so. Because a surrogate 
mother is prepared to walk away from the child she has gestated for the “right 
price,” she debunks the “myth” of biological motherhood. But in Ferguson’s 
estimation, it is debatable whether all surrogate mothers choose money over 
the product of their gestational labor. Depending on a woman’s social circum- 
stances, her consent to surrender the child she has gestated to the couple who 
contracted for it may not be truly free. Since most surrogate mothers are less 
advantaged than their clients, the surrogates might easily be driven to sell one 
of the few things they have that patriarchal society values: their reproductive 
services. To say women choose to do this might simply be to say that when 
women are forced to choose between being poor and being exploited, they 
may choose being exploited as the lesser of two evils. 

Assuming socialist feminists like Ferguson are correct to stress that 
women’s sexual and reproductive desires, needs, behaviors, and identities are 
largely the product of the time and place that women occupy in history, these 
feminists are also right to argue that (1) neither heterosexuality nor lesbianism 
is either inherently pleasurable or inherently dangerous for women; and (2) 
neither natural reproduction nor artificial reproduction is either inherently 
empowering or inherently disempowering for women. Socialist feminists urge 
all radical feminists to ask themselves what kind of sexual and reproductive 



Critiques of Radical-Libertarian and Radical-Cultural Feminism 95 


practices people would adopt in a society in which all economic, political, and 
kinship systems were structured to create equality between men and women 
and as far as possible between adults and children. In an egalitarian world, 
would men and women engage in “male breadwinner/female housewife sex 
prostitution,” or would they instead develop forms of egalitarian heterosexu- 
ality seldom imagined let alone practiced in our very unequal, patriarchal 
world? Would some lesbians continue to engage in S/M and butch-femme 
relationships, or would all lesbians find themselves turned off by such prac- 
tices? Would there be “man-boy” love or “parent-child” love (incest)? Would 
women use more or less in the way of contraceptives? Would couples contract 
for gestational mothers’ services, or would they instead prefer to adopt chil- 
dren? Would there be more or fewer children? Would most people choose to 
reproduce “artificially,” or would they instead choose to reproduce the “old- 
fashioned,” natural way? 

What is common to the kind of questions just posed, said Ferguson, is that 
the answers they yield will be lived in the future world that feminists imagine 
and not, for the most part, in the present world feminists experience. For now, 
feminists should seek to develop an approach to sexuality and reproduction that 
permits women to understand both the pleasures and the dangers of sex, and 
the liberating and enslaving aspects of reproduction. The dead-end approaches 
of the past have turned out to be part of the problem of human oppression 
rather than a remedy for it. The sooner these either-or approaches to sexuality 
and reproduction are replaced with both-and approaches, the sooner will men 
and women stop “playing” the destructive game of male domination and female 
subordination. 



3 


Marxist and Socialist Feminism: 

Classical and Contemporary 


Although it is possible to distinguish between Marxist and socialist femi- 
nist thought, it is quite difficult to do so. Over the years, I have become 
convinced that the differences between these two schools of thought are 
more a matter of emphasis than of substance. Classical Marxist feminists 
work within the conceptual terrain laid out by Marx, Engels, Lenin, and 
other nineteenth-century thinkers. They regard classism rather than sex- 
ism as the fundamental cause of women’s oppression. In contrast, socialist 
feminists are not certain that classism is women’s worst or only enemy. 
They write in view of Russia’s twentieth-century failure to achieve social- 
ism’s ultimate goal — namely, the replacement of class oppression and an- 
tagonism with “an association, in which the free development of each is 
the condition for the free development of all.” 1 Post-1917 Communism 
in the Soviet Union and later in the so-called Eastern Bloc was not true 
socialism but simply a new form of human exploitation and oppression. 
Women’s lives under Communism, particularly during the Stalin years 
(1929-1953), were not manifestly better than women’s lives under capi- 
talism. Women’s move into the productive workplace had not made them 
men’s equals either there or at home. For these reasons and related ones, 
socialist feminists decided to move beyond relying on class as the sole cat- 
egory for understanding women’s subordination to men. Increasingly, 
they tried “to understand women’s subordination in a coherent and sys- 
tematic way that integrates class and sex, as well as other aspects of iden- 
tity such as race/ethnicity or sexual orientation.” 2 


% 




Some Marxist Concepts and Theories 97 


Some Marxist Concepts and Theories 

To appreciate the differences between classical Marxist and contemporary 
socialist feminism, we need to understand the Marxist concept of human 
nature. As noted in Chapter 1, liberals believe that several characteristics 
distinguish human beings from other animals. These characteristics include 
a set of abilities, such as the capacity for rationality and the use of language; 
a set of practices, such as religion, art, and science; and a set of attitude and 
behavior patterns, such as competitiveness and the tendency to put oneself 
over others. Marxists reject the liberal conception of human nature, claim- 
ing instead that what makes us different from other animals is our ability to 
produce our means of subsistence. We are what we are because of what we 
do — specifically, what we do to meet our basic needs through productive 
activities such as fishing, farming, and building. Unlike bees, beavers, and 
ants, whose activities are governed by instinct and who cannot willfully 
change themselves, we create ourselves in the process of intentionally trans- 
forming and manipulating nature. 3 

For the liberal, the ideas, thoughts, and values of individuals account for 
change over time. For the Marxist, material forces — the production and 
reproduction of social life — are the prime movers in history. In laying out a 
full explanation of how change takes place over time, an explanation usually 
termed historical materialism, Marx stated, “The mode of production of 
material life conditions the general process of social, political, and intellectual 
life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but 
their social existence that determines their consciousness.” 4 In other words, 
Marx believed a society’s total mode of production — that is, its forces of pro- 
duction (the raw materials, tools, and workers that actually produce goods) 
plus its relations of production (the ways in which production is organized) — 
generates a superstructure (a layer of legal, political, and social ideas) that in 
turn reinforces the mode of production. Adding to Marx’s point, Richard 
Schmitt later emphasized that the statement “Human beings create them- 
selves” is not to be read as “Men and women, as individuals, make themselves 
what they are,” but instead as “Men and women, through production collec- 
tively, create a society that, in turn, shapes them.” 5 So, for example, people in 
the United States think in certain ways about liberty, equality, and freedom 
because their mode of production is capitalist. 

Like Marxists in general, Marxist and socialist feminists claim that social 
existence determines consciousness. For them, the observation that “women’s 
work is never done” is more than an aphorism; it is a description of the nature 



98 Chapter 3: Marxist and Socialist Feminism 


of woman’s work. Always on call, women form a conception of themselves 
they would not have if their roles in the family and the workplace did not 
keep them socially and economically subordinate to men. Thus, Marxist and 
socialist feminists believe we need to analyze the links between women’s work 
status and women’s self-image in order to understand the unique character of 
women’s oppression. 6 


The Marxist Theory of Economics 

To the degree Marxist and socialist feminists believe women’s work shapes 
women’s thoughts and thus “female nature,” these thinkers also believe capi- 
talism is a system of power relations as well as exchange relations. When cap- 
italism is viewed as a system of exchange relations, it is described as a 
commodity or market society in which everything, including one’s own la- 
bor power, has a price and all transactions are fundamentally exchange trans- 
actions. But when capitalism is viewed instead as a system of power 
relations, it is described as a society in which every kind of transactional rela- 
tion is fundamentally exploitative. Thus, depending on one’s emphasis, the 
worker-employer relationship can be looked at as either an exchange rela- 
tionship in which items of equivalent value are freely traded — labor for 
wages — or as a workplace struggle in which the employer, who has superior 
power, takes advantage of workers in any number of ways. 

Whereas liberals view capitalism as a system of voluntary exchange rela- 
tions, Marxists and socialists view capitalism as a system of exploitative power 
relations. According to Marx, the value of any commodity is determined by 
the amount of labor, or actual expenditure of human energy and intelligence, 
necessary to produce it. 7 To be more precise, the value of any commodity is 
equal to the direct labor incorporated in the commodity by workers, plus the 
indirect labor stored in workers’ artificial appendages — the tools and machines 
made by the direct labor of their predecessors. 8 Because all commodities are 
worth exactly the labor necessary to produce them and because workers’ labor 
power (capacity for work) is a commodity that can be bought and sold, the 
value of workers’ labor power is exactly the cost of whatever it takes (food, 
clothing, shelter) to maintain them throughout the workday. But there is a 
difference between what employers pay workers for their mere capacity to 
work (labor power) and the value that workers actually create when they put 
their work capacity to use in producing commodities. 9 Marx termed this dif- 
ference “surplus value,” and from it employers derive their profits. Thus, capi- 
talism is an exploitative system because employers pay workers only for their 



Some Marxist Concepts and Theories 99 


labor power, without also paying workers for the human energy they expend 
and the intelligence they transfer into the commodities they produce. 10 

At this point in an analysis of Marxist economic thought, it seems reasonable 
to ask how employers get workers to labor for more hours than are necessary to 
produce the value of their subsistence, especially when workers receive no com- 
pensation for this extra work. The answer to this query is, as Marx explained in 
Capital, a simple one: Employers have a monopoly on the means of production, 
including factories, tools, land, means of transportation, and means of commu- 
nication. Workers are forced to choose between being exploited and having no 
work at all. It is a liberal fiction that workers freely sign mutually beneficial con- 
tractual agreements with their employers. Capitalism is just as much a system of 
power relations as it is one of exchange relations. Workers are free to contract 
with employers only in the sense that employers do not hold a gun to their 
heads when they sign on the dotted line. 

Interestingly, there is another, less discussed reason why employers are able 
to exploit workers under capitalism. According to Marx, capitalist ideologies 
lead workers and employers to focus on capitalism’s surface structure of 
exchange relations. 1 1 As a result of this ideological ploy, which Marx called the 
fetishism of commodities, workers gradually convince themselves that even 
though their money is very hard earned, there is nothing inherently wrong 
with the specific exchange relationships into which they have entered, because 
life, in all its dimensions, is simply one colossal system of exchange relations. 

That liberal ideologies, typically spawned in capitalist economics, present 
practices such as prostitution and surrogate motherhood as contractual exer- 
cises of free choice, then, is no accident, according to Marxist and socialist 
feminists. The liberal ideologies claim that women become prostitutes and 
surrogate mothers because they prefer these jobs over other available jobs. 
But, as Marxist and socialist feminists see it, when a poor, illiterate, unskilled 
woman chooses to sell her sexual or reproductive services, chances are her 
choice is more coerced than free. After all, if one has little else of value to sell 
besides one’s body, one’s leverage in the marketplace is quite limited. 

The Marxist Theory of Society 

Like the Marxist analysis of power, the Marxist analysis of class has provided 
both Marxist and socialist feminists with some of the conceptual tools necessary 
to understand women’s oppression. Marx observed that every political econ- 
omy — the primitive communal state, the slave epoch, the precapitalist society, 
and the bourgeois society — contains the seeds of its own destruction. Thus, 
according to Marx, there are within capitalism enough internal contradictions 



100 Chapter 3: Marxist and Socialist Feminism 


to generate a class division dramatic enough to overwhelm the very system that 
produced it. Specifically, there exist many poor and propertyless workers. These 
workers live very modestly, receiving subsistence wages for their exhausting 
labor while their employers live in luxury. When these two groups of people, the 
haves and the have-nots, both become conscious of themselves as classes, said 
Marx, class struggle ensues and ultimately topples the system that produced 
these classes. 12 It is important to emphasize the dynamic nature of class. Classes 
do not simply appear. They are slowly and often painstakingly formed by simi- 
larly situated people who share the same wants and needs. According to Marx, 
people who belong to any class initially have no more unity than “potatoes in a 
sack of potatoes. 13 But through a long and complex process of struggling 
together about issues of local and later national interest to them, a group of 
people gradually becomes a unity, a true class. Because class unity is difficult to 
achieve, its importance cannot be overstated, said Marx. As soon as a group of 
people is fully conscious of itself as a class, it has a better chance of achieving its 
fundamental goals. There is power in group awareness. 

Class consciousness is, in the Marxist framework, the opposite of false 
consciousness, a state of mind that impedes the creation and maintenance of 
true class unity. False consciousness causes exploited people to believe they 
are as free to act and speak as their exploiters are. The bourgeoisie is espe- 
cially adept at fooling the proletariat. For this reason, Marxists discredit egal- 
itarian, or welfare, liberalism, for example, as a ruling-class ideology that 
tricks workers into believing their employers actually care about them. As 
Marxists see it, fringe benefits such as generous health-care plans or paid 
maternity leave are not gifts employers generously bestow on workers, but a 
means to pull the wool over workers’ eyes. Grateful for the benefits their 
employers give them, workers minimize their own hardships and suffering. 
Like the ruling class, the workers begin to perceive the status quo as the best 
possible world for workers and employers alike. The more benefits employers 
give their workers, the less likely their workers will form a class capable of 
recognizing their true needs as human beings. 

Because Marxist and socialist feminists wish to view women as a collectivity, 
Marxist teachings on class and class consciousness play a large role in Marxist 
and socialist feminist thought. Much debate within the Marxist and socialist 
feminist community has centered on the following question: Do women per se 
constitute a class? Given that some women are wives, daughters, friends, and 
lovers of bourgeois men, whereas other women are the wives, daughters, friends, 
and lovers of proletarian men, it would appear women do not constitute a sin- 
gle class in the strict Marxist sense. Yet, bourgeois and proletarian womens do- 
mestic experiences, for example, may bear enough similarities to motivate 



Some Marxist Concepts and Theories 101 


unifying struggles such as the 1970s wages-for-housework campaign (see dis- 
cussion below). Thus, many Marxist and socialist feminists believe women can 
gain a consciousness of themselves as a class of workers by insisting, for exam- 
ple, that domestic work be recognized as real work, that is, productive work. 
The observation that wives and mothers usually love the people for whom they 
work does not mean that cooking, cleaning, and childcare are not productive 
work. At most it means wives’ and mothers’ working conditions are better than 
those of people who work for employers they dislike. 14 

By keeping the Marxist conceptions of class and class consciousness in mind, 
we can understand another concept that often plays a role in Marxist and social- 
ist feminist thought: alienation. Like many Marxist terms, the term alienation is 
extraordinarily difficult to define simply. In Karl Marx, Allen Wood suggested 
we are alienated “if we either experience our lives as meaningless or ourselves as 
worthless, or else are capable of sustaining a sense of meaning and self-worth 
only with the help of illusions about ourselves or our condition.” 15 Robert Heil- 
broner added that alienation is a profoundly fragmenting experience. Things or 
persons who are or should be connected in some significant way are instead 
viewed as separate. As Heilbroner saw it, this sense of fragmentation and mean- 
inglessness is particularly strong under capitalism. 

As a result of invidious class distinctions, as well as the highly specialized 
and highly segmented nature of the work process, human existence loses its 
unity and wholeness in four basic ways. First, workers are alienated from the 
product of their labor. Not only do workers have no say in what commodities 
they will or will not produce, but the fruits of their labor are snatched from 
them. Therefore, the satisfaction of determining when, where, how, and to 
whom these commodities will be sold is denied the workers. What should 
partially express and constitute their being- as-workers confronts them as a 
thing apart, a thing alien. 16 

Second, workers are alienated from themselves because when work is experi- 
enced as something unpleasant to be gotten through as quickly as possible, it is 
deadening. When the potential source of workers’ humanization becomes the 
actual source of their dehumanization, workers may undergo a major psycholog- 
ical crisis. They start feeling like hamsters on a hamster wheel, going nowhere. 

Third, workers are alienated from other human beings because the structure 
of the capitalist economy encourages and even forces workers to see each 
other as competitors for jobs and promotions. When the source of workers’ 
community (other workers experienced as cooperators, friends, people to be 
with) becomes instead the source of their isolation (other workers experienced 
as competitors, enemies, people to avoid), workers become disidentified with 
each other, losing an opportunity to add joy and meaning to their lives. 



102 Chapter 3: Marxist and Socialist Feminism 

Fourth, workers are alienated from nature because the kind of work they do 
and the conditions under which they do it make them see nature as an obstacle 
to their survival. This negative perception of nature sets up an opposition where 
in fact a connectedness should exist — the connectedness among all elements in 
nature. The elimination of this type of alienation, entailing a return to a 
humane kind of work environment, is yet another important justification for 
the overthrow of capitalism. 17 

Building on the idea that in a capitalist society, human relations take on 
an alienated nature in which “the individual only feels himself or herself 
when detached from others,” 18 Ann Foreman claimed this state of affairs is 
worse for women than it is for men: 

The man exists in the social world of business and industry as well as in 
the family and therefore is able to express himself in these different 
spheres. For the woman, however, her place is within the home. Men’s ob- 
jectification within industry, through the expropriation of the product of 
their labour, takes the form of alienation. But the effect of alienation on 
the lives and consciousness of women takes an even more oppressive form. 
Men seek relief from their alienation through their relations with women; 
for women there is no relief. For these intimate relations are the very ones 
that are essential structures of her oppression. 19 

As Foreman saw it, women’s alienation is profoundly disturbing because 
women experience themselves not as selves but as others. All too often, said 
Foreman, a woman’s sense of self is entirely dependent on her families’ and 
friends’ appreciation of her. If they express loving feelings toward her, she 
will be happy, but if they fail to give her even a thank-you, she will be sad. 
Thus, Marxist and socialist feminists aim to create a world in which women 
can experience themselves as whole persons, as integrated rather than frag- 
mented beings, as people who can be happy even when they are unable to 
make their families and friends happy. 

The Marxist Theory of Politics 

Like the Marxist theories of economics and society, the Marxist theory of pol- 
itics offers Marxist and socialist feminists insights to help liberate women 
from the forces that oppress them. As noted previously, class struggle takes a 
certain form within the workplace because the interests of the employers are 
not those of the workers. Whereas it is in the employers’ interests to use what- 
ever tactics may be necessary (harassment, firing, violence) to get workers to 



Some Marxist Concepts and Theories 103 


work ever more effectively and efficiently for less wages than their work is 
worth, it is in the workers’ interests to use whatever countertactics may be 
necessary (sick time, coffee breaks, strikes) to limit the extent to which their 
labor power is used to produce sheer profit for their employers. 

The relatively small and everyday class conflicts occurring within the cap- 
italist workplace serve as preliminaries to the full-fledged, large-scale class 
struggles that Marx envisioned. As noted above, Marx predicted that as 
workers become increasingly aware of their common exploitation and alien- 
ation, they will achieve class consciousness. United, the workers will be able 
to fight their employers for control over the means of production (e.g., the 
nation’s factories). If the workers manage to win this fight, Marx claimed 
that a highly committed, politically savvy, well-trained group of revolution- 
aries would subsequently emerge from the workers’ ranks. Marx termed this 
special group of workers the “vanguard” of the full-scale revolution for which 
he hoped. More than anything else, Marx desired to replace capitalism with 
socialism, a nonexploitative, nonalienating political economy through which 
communism, “the complete and conscious return of man himself as a social, 
that is, human being,” 20 could come into existence. 

Under capitalism, Marx suggested, people are largely free to do what they 
want to do within the confines of the system, but they have little say in 
determining the confines themselves. “Personality,” said Marx, “is condi- 
tioned and determined by quite definite class relationships.” 21 Decades later, 
Richard Schmitt elaborated on Marx’s powerful quote: 

In as much as persons do certain jobs in society, they tend to acquire cer- 
tain character traits, interests, habits, and so on. Without such adapta- 
tions to the demands of their particular occupations, they would not be 
able to do a great job. A capitalist who cannot bear to win in competition, 
or to outsmart someone, will not be a capitalist for long. A worker who is 
unwilling to take orders will not work very often. In this way we are 
shaped by the work environment, and this fact limits personal freedom 
for it limits what we can choose to be. 22 

In contrast to the persons living under capitalism, persons living under com- 
munism are free not only to do but also to be what they want, because they 
have the power to see clearly and change the system that shapes them. 

If we read between these lines, we can appreciate another of Marxism’s 
major appeals to Marxist and socialist feminists. It promises to reconstitute 
human nature in ways that preclude all the pernicious dichotomies that have 
made slaves of some and masters of others. Marxism also promises to make 



104 Chapter 3: Marxist and Socialist Feminism 


people free, a promise women would like to see someone keep. There is, after 
all, something very liberating about the idea of women and men construct- 
ing together the social structures and social roles that will permit both gen- 
ders to realize their full human potential. 

The Marxist Theory of Family Relations 

Although the fathers of Marxism did not take womens oppression nearly as se- 
riously as they did workers’ oppression, some of them did offer explanations for 
why women are oppressed qua women. With the apparent blessing of Marx, 
Engels wrote The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1845), in 
which he showed how changes in the material conditions of people affect the 
organization of their family relations. He argued that before the family, or struc- 
tured conjugal relations, there existed a primitive state of “promiscuous inter- 
course.” 23 In this early state, every woman was fair game for every man, and vice 
versa. All were essentially married to all. In the process of natural selection, sug- 
gested Engels, various kinds of blood relatives were gradually excluded from 
consideration as eligible marriage partners. 24 As fewer and fewer women in the 
tribal group became available to any given man, individual men began to put 
forcible claims on individual women as their possessions. As a result, the pairing 
family, in which one man is married to one woman, came into existence. 

Noting that when a man took a woman, he came to live in her household, 
Engels interpreted this state of affairs as a sign of women’s economic power. 
Because women’s work was vital for the tribe’s survival and because women 
produced most of the material goods (e.g., bedding, clothing, cookware, 
tools) that could be passed on to future generations, Engels concluded that 
early pairing societies were probably matrilineal, with inheritance and lines 
of descent traced through the mother. 25 Later, Engels speculated that pairing 
societies may have been not merely matrilineal societies but also matriarchal 
societies in which women ruled at the political, social, and economic 
levels. 26 But his main and less debatable point remained that whatever 
power women had in past times, it was rooted in their position in the house- 
hold, at that time the center of production. 27 Only if the site of production 
changed would women lose their advantaged position. 28 As it turned out, 
said Engels, a site change did occur. The “domestication of animals and the 
breeding of herds” outside the household led to an entirely new source of 
wealth for the human community. 29 Somehow, men gained control of the 
tribe’s animals (Engels did not tell us why or how), 30 and the male-female 
power balance shifted in favor of men, as men learned to produce more than 
enough animals to meet the tribe’s needs for milk and meat. 



Some Marxist Concepts and Theories 105 


Surplus animals constituted an accumulation of wealth men used as a 
means of exchange between tribes. Possessing more than enough of a valuable 
socioeconomic good, men found themselves increasingly preoccupied with 
the issue of property inheritance. Directed through the mother’s line, prop- 
erty inheritance was originally a minor matter of the bequest of a “house, 
clothing, crude ornaments and the tools for obtaining and preparing food — 
boats, weapons and domestic utensils of the simplest kinds.” 31 As production 
outside the household began to outstrip production within it, the traditional 
sexual division of labor between men and women, which had supposedly 
arisen out of the physiological differences between the sexes — specifically, the 
sex act 32 — took on new social meanings. As men’s work and production grew 
in importance, not only did the value of women’s work and production 
decrease, but the status of women within society decreased. Because men now 
possessed things more valuable than the things women possessed and because 
men, for some unexplained reason, suddenly wanted their own biological chil- 
dren to get their possessions, men exerted enormous pressure to convert soci- 
ety from a matrilineal one into a patrilineal one. As Engels phrased it, mother 
right had “to be overthrown, and overthrown it was.” 33 

Engels presented the “overthrow of mother right” as “ the world-historic 
defeat of the female tax’’ 34 Elaving produced and staked a claim to wealth, 
men took control of the household, reducing women to the “slaves” of men’s 
carnal desire and “mere instrument^] for the production of [men’s] chil- 
dren.” 35 In this new familial order, said Engels, the husband ruled by virtue 
of his economic power: “He is the bourgeois and the wife represents the pro- 
letariat.” 36 Engels believed men’s power over women is rooted in the fact that 
men, not women, control private property. The oppression of women will 
cease only with the dissolution of the institution of private property. 

The emergence of private property and the shift to patrilineage also 
explained, for Engels, the transition to the monogamous family. Before the 
advent of technologies such as in vitro fertilization (see Chapter 2), it was al- 
ways possible to identify the biological mother of a child. If the child came out 
of a woman’s body, the child was the biological product of her egg and some 
man’s sperm. In contrast, before the development of DNA testing to establish 
biological paternity, the identity of a biological father was uncertain because a 
woman could have been impregnated by a man other than her husband. Thus, 
to secure their wives’ marital fidelity, men imposed the institution of heterosex- 
ual monogamy on women, the purpose of which was, according to Engels, to 
provide a vehicle for the guaranteed transfer of a father’s private property to his 
biological children. Male dominance, in the forms of patrilineage and patri- 
archy, is simply the result of the class division between the propertied man and 



106 Chapter 3: Marxist and Socialist Feminism 


the propertyless woman. Engels commented that monogamy was “the first 
form of the family to be based not on natural but on economic conditions.” 37 
In his estimation, the monogamous family is the product not of love and com- 
mitment but of power plays and economic exigencies. 

Because Engels viewed monogamous marriage as an economic institution 
that has nothing to do with love and everything to do with the transfer of 
private property, he insisted that if wives are to be emancipated from their hus- 
bands, women must first become economically independent of men. Ele 
stressed that the first presupposition for the emancipation of women is “the 
reintroduction of the entire female sex into public industry,” and the second is 
the socialization of housework and child-rearing. 38 Remarkably, Engels believed 
that proletarian women experience less oppression than do bourgeois women. 
As he saw it, the bourgeois family consists of a relationship between a husband 
and a wife in which the husband agrees to support his wife provided that she 
promises to remain sexually faithful to him and to reproduce only his legitimate 
heirs. “This marriage of convenience,” observed Engels, “often enough turns 
into the crassest prostitution — sometimes on both sides, but much more gener- 
ally on the part of the wife, who differs from the ordinary courtesan only in that 
she does not hire out her body, like a wageworker, on piecework, but sells it into 
slavery once and for all.” 39 

In contrast to the bourgeois marriage, the proletarian marriage is not, in 
Engels’s estimation, a mode of prostitution, because the material conditions 
of the proletarian family differ substantially from those of the bourgeois fam- 
ily. Not only is the proletariat’s lack of private property significant in remov- 
ing the primary male incentive for monogamy — namely, the reproduction of 
legitimate heirs for one’s property — but the general employment of proletar- 
ian women as workers outside the home also leads to a measure of equality 
between husband and wife. This equality, according to Engels, provides the 
foundation of true “sex-love.” In addition to these differences, the household 
authority of the proletarian husband, unlike that of the bourgeois husband, 
is not likely to receive the full support of the legal establishment. For all these 
reasons, Engels concluded that with the exception of “residual brutality” 
(spouse abuse), all “the material foundations of male dominance had ceased 
to exist” in the proletarian home. 40 

Classical Marxist Feminism: General Reflections 

Affirming the ideas of Marx and Engels, classical Marxist feminists tried to 
use a class analysis rather than a gender analysis to explain women’s oppres- 
sion. A particularly good example of classical Marxist feminism appeared in 



Classical Marxist Feminism: General Reflections 107 


Evelyn Reed’s “Women: Caste, Class, or Oppressed Sex?” 41 Stressing that the 
same capitalist economic forces and social relations that “brought about the 
oppression of one class by another, one race by another, and one nation by 
another” 42 also brought about the oppression of one sex by another, Reed 
resisted the view that women’s oppression as women is the worst kind of 
oppression for all women. Although Reed agreed that relative to men, 
women occupy a subordinate position in a patriarchal or male-dominated 
society, she did not think that all women were equally oppressed by men or 
that no women were guilty of oppressing other women. On the contrary, she 
thought bourgeoisie women were capable of oppressing both proletarian 
men and women. In a capitalist system, money is most often power. 

Not found in Reed is any manifesto urging all women to band together to 
wage a “caste war” against all men. 43 Rather, she encourages oppressed women 
to join oppressed men in a “class war” against their common capitalist oppres- 
sors, female and male. Reed thought it was misguided to insist that all 
women, simply by virtue of possessing two X chromosomes, belong to the 
same class. On the contrary, she maintained that “women, like men are a mul- 
ticlass sex. ” 44 Specifically, proletarian women have little in common with bour- 
geoisie women, who are the economic, social, and political as well as sexual 
partners of the bourgeoisie men to whom they are linked. Bourgeoisie women 
are not united with proletarian women but with bourgeoisie men “in defense 
of private property, profiteering, militarism, racism — and the exploitation of 
other women.” 45 

Clearly, Reed believed that the primary enemy of at least proletarian 
women is not patriarchy, but first and foremost, capitalism. Optimistic 
about male-female relations in a postcapitalist society, Reed maintained that 
“[f]ar from being eternal, woman’s subjection and the bitter hostility 
between the sexes are no more than a few thousand years old. They were pro- 
duced by the drastic social changes which brought the family, private prop- 
erty, and the state into existence.” 46 With the end of capitalist male-female 
relationships, both sexes will thrive in a communist society that enables all its 
members to cooperate with each other in communities of care. 

Women’s Labor After the 1917 Communist Revolution in Russia 

During the 1917 Communist Revolution and for several years afterward, 
Reed’s brand of optimism seemed well-founded. Women were invited to enter 
the productive workforce to supposedly find in it the beginnings of their full 
human liberation. With economic independence would come the possibility 
of women’s developing self-confidence and viewing themselves as makers of 



108 Chapter 3: Marxist and Socialist Feminism 

meaningful human history. Unfortunately, things did not turn out so well for 
postrevolution Soviet women. On the contrary! Rather than finding in the 
workplace meaningful, high-waged work, most women found drone-like, ex- 
hausting work that was typically less valued than men’s work. 47 Not wanting to 
jeopardize Communist plans to totally destroy capitalism, most Marxist femi- 
nists kept quiet about their workplace situation in public. However, in private 
they complained about such workplace disadvantages as (1) the relegation of 
most women to low-status “women’s work” (i.e., secretarial work; rote factory 
work; and service work, including jobs related to cooking, cleaning, and caring 
for the basic needs of the young, the old, and the infirm); (2) the creation of 
“female professions” and “male professions”; (3) the payment of lower wages to 
women than the wages paid to men; and (4) the treatment of women as a 
“colossal reserve of labor forces” to use or not use, depending on the state’s 
need for workers. 48 

Unable to find in strict Marxist theory an explanation for why, on the 
average, socialist women were not faring as well as socialist men in the 
productive workforce, some Marxist feminists turned their attention to 
the work women did in the domestic realm — work that men typically did 
not do. Trying to explain why socialist women were saddled with their 
families’ domestic work, whether or not the women worked in the pro- 
ductive workforce, Margaret Benston defined women as that class of 
people “responsible for the production of simple use-values in those activ- 
ities associated with the house and family.” 49 As she saw it, women must 
break out of this class to be liberated, but they cannot do so unless their 
domestic labor is socialized: 

Women, particularly married women with children, who work outside 
the home simply do two jobs; their participation in the labor force is 
only allowed if they continue to fulfill their first responsibility in the 
home. . . . Equal access to jobs outside the home, while one of the pre- 
conditions for women’s liberation, will not in itself be sufficient to give 
equality for women; as long as work in the home remains a matter of 
private production and is the responsibility of women, they will simply 
carry a double work-load. 50 

To bring women into the productive workforce without simultaneously 
socializing the jobs of cooking, cleaning, and childcare is to make women’s 
oppressed condition even worse, claimed Benston. To be sure, she con- 
ceded, the socialization of domestic work might lead to women’s doing the 
same sorts of “female” work outside the home as they do inside the home. 
But the simple fact that women will be doing this “female” work outside 



Classical Marxist Feminism: General Reflections 109 


their own home for wages over which they have control can be viewed as an 
advancement for women, insisted Benston. 

The Wages-for-Housework Campaign 

Agreeing with Benston that in a socialist society, it might be necessary to 
socialize domestic work to achieve full liberation for women, Maria Dalla 
Costa and Selma James nonetheless argued that in a capitalist society, the 
best way (or at least the quickest way) for women to achieve economic par- 
ity with men might not be for women to enter the productive workforce 
and for domestic labor to be socialized, but instead for women to stay at 
home and demand wages for the “real work” — that is, productive work — 
they did there. Unlike most classical Marxist feminist thinkers, Dalla Costa 
and James claimed that women’s work inside the home generates surplus 
value. 51 They reasoned that women’s domestic work is the necessary condi- 
tion for all other labor, from which, in turn, surplus value is extracted. By 
providing not only food and clothes but also emotional comfort to current 
(and future) workers, women keep the cogs of the capitalist machine run- 
ning. Therefore, argued Dalla Costa and James, men’s employers should 
pay women wages for the housework they do. 52 Let housewives get the 
cash that would otherwise fatten employers’ wallets. 53 

Acknowledging that domestic labor could be viewed as productive work, 
most Marxist feminists nonetheless concluded that paying women wages for 
housework was neither as feasible nor as desirable as Dalla Costa and James 
seemed to think. Paying women to do housework was not feasible, in their 
estimation, for several reasons. First, if employers were required to pay 
housewives wages for housework, the employers would probably pay house- 
wives’ husbands lower wages. Under such circumstances, the total capitalist 
profit margin would remain high, and the material conditions of workers 
would not improve. Second, not all or not even most women in advanced 
capitalist economies are stay-at-home domestic workers. Many married 
women as well as married men work outside the home as do many single 
men and women. Would employers be required to pay all their workers’ 
wages for their at-home domestic work? If so, would employers have any way 
to monitor the quantity and quality of their workers’ domestic labor? Third, 
if small companies as well as major corporations were required to pay all 
their workers for domestic work, most small companies would probably go 
out of business. Back in 1972, the height of the wages-for-housework cam- 
paign, the Chase Manhattan Bank estimated that “for her average 1 00-hour 
workweek, the housewife should be paid $257. 53. ” 54 In that same year, 
noted Ann C. Scott, “white males had average incomes of $172 a week; 



110 Chapter 3: Marxist and Socialist Feminism 

white females had average incomes of $108 a week.” 55 By 2005, over thirty 
years later, annual median earnings in the United States for women are 
$32,168, and for men are $4 1,965. 56 Add to these median wages the wages 
for domestic labor done by employees in their own homes, and there is no 
question that most small or even large companies could not sustain such a 
hit. Indeed, even if wages for domestic labor were paid at the rate of only the 
minimum wage of $5.85 per hour for, say, a fifty-six-hour domestic work 
week, each employee’s salary would need to be topped off with over $ 1 7,000 
annually. 57 

Clearly, it does not seem feasible to pay anyone, including wives, girl- 
friends, mothers, and daughters, wages for housework. But even if it were 
feasible to do so, would it be desirable? Many Marxist and other feminists 
in the 1970s were not confident that wages for housework would liberate 
women. Carol Lopate, among others, argued that paying women for house- 
work would have the net effect of keeping women isolated in their own 
homes with few opportunities to do anything other than routinized and 
repetitious work: 

The decrease in house size and the mechanization of housework have meant 
that the housewife is potentially left with much greater leisure time; however, 
she is often kept busy buying, using, and repairing the devices and their at- 
tachments which are theoretically geared toward saving her time. Moreover, 
the trivial, manufactured tasks which many of these technological aids per- 
form are hardly a source of satisfaction for housewives. Max-Pacs may give 
“perfect coffee every time,” but even a compliment about her coffee can offer 
little more than fleeting satisfaction to the housewife. Finally, schools, nurs- 
eries, day care, and television have taken from mothers much of their respon- 
sibility for the socialization of their children. 58 

Moreover, and even more important, paying women wages for domestic 
work would give women little impetus to work outside the household. As a 
result, the traditional sexual division of labor would be strengthened. Men 
would feel no pressure to do “women’s work,” and women would have no in- 
centive to do “men’s work.” 59 

Contemporary Socialist Feminism: 

General Reflections 

The more Marxist feminists realized that, like everyone else, they had unre- 
flectively assumed that domestic work is women’s work, the more it concerned 



Contemporary Socialist Feminism: General Reflections 111 


them that the advent of Communist/socialist societies had not resulted in the 
socialization of this work. Rather than there being an approximately equal 
number of men and women doing domestic work for wages, it was business as 
usual. That is, women continued to do domestic work in the home “for free,” 
whether or not they had a paid job outside the home. Unable to explain in ex- 
clusively economic terms why domestic work is viewed as women’s work in 
socialist as well as capitalist societies, many Marxist feminists concluded that 
domestic work is assigned to women in all societies simply because all women 
belong to the same sex class — namely, the second (female) sex, which exists to 
serve the first (male) sex. 

The Marxist feminists who decided that women’s sex class as well as eco- 
nomic class plays a role in women’s oppression began to refer to themselves as 
socialist feminists or materialist feminists. One of the initial goals of this 
evolving group of feminist theorists was to develop a theory powerful enough 
to explain the complex ways in which capitalism and patriarchy allied to op- 
press women. The result of this effort was, as might be predicted, not a uni- 
tary theory, but a variety of theories that sorted themselves into two types: (1) 
two-system explanations of women’s oppression and (2) interactive-system ex- 
planations of women’s oppression. 

Two-System Explanations of Women’s Oppression 

Two-system explanations of women’s oppression typically combine a Marxist 
feminist account of class power with a radical feminist account of sex 
power. 60 Some two-system explanations adhere to the Marxist base-super- 
structure model that views economics as “the fundamental motor of social 
relations” 61 shaping the form of society, including its ideologies and psy- 
chologies. These explanations claim that, at root, women have more to fear 
from capitalist forces than from patriarchal forces. 62 In contrast, other two- 
system explanations are less committed to the Marxist base-superstructure 
model. They imply that patriarchy, not capitalism, may be women’s ultimate 
worst enemy. 

Juliet Mitchell. In the early 1970s, Juliet Mitchell sketched a plausible 
two-system explanation of women’s oppression. In Woman’s Estate, she aban- 
doned the classical Marxist feminist position according to which a woman’s 
condition is simply a function of her relation to capital, of whether she is 
part of the productive workforce. In place of this monocausal explanation for 
women’s oppression, she suggested women’s status and function are multiply 
determined by their role in not only production but also reproduction, the 



112 Chapter 3: Marxist and Socialist Feminism 


socialization of children, and sexuality. “The error of the old Marxist way,” 
she said, “was to see the other three elements as reducible to the economic; 
hence the call for the entry into production was accompanied by the purely 
abstract slogan of the abolition of the family. Economic demands are still pri- 
mary, but must be accompanied by coherent policies for the other three ele- 
ments (reproduction, sexuality and socialization), policies which at particular 
junctures may take over the primary role in immediate action.” 63 

In attempting to determine which of these elements most oppressed 
1970s U.S. women, Mitchell concluded that U.S. women had not made 
enough progress in the areas of production, reproduction, and the socializa- 
tion of children. She noted that even though women are just as physically 
and psychologically qualified for high-paying, prestigious jobs as men are, 
employers continued to confine women to low-paying, low-status jobs. 64 
Moreover, said Mitchell, despite the widespread availability of safe, effective, 
and inexpensive reproduction-controlling technologies, women often failed 
or refused to use them. As a result, the causal chain of “maternity — family — 
absence from production and public life — sexual inequality” continued to 
bind women to their subordinate status. Furthermore, although 1970s U.S. 
women had far fewer children than U.S. women did at the turn of the cen- 
tury, the modem women spent no less time socializing them. 65 In fact, the 
pressures to be a perfect mother, always attentive to every physical and psy- 
chological need of her children, seemed to be increasing. 

Interestingly, like radical-libertarian feminists, Mitchell thought 1970s 
U.S. women had made major progress in the area of sexuality. She claimed 
that unlike previous generations, 1970s U.S. women felt free to express their 
sexual desires publicly and to present themselves as sexual beings. Still, 
Mitchell acknowledged that pushed to its extreme, women’s newly won sex- 
ual liberation could mutate into a form of sexual oppression. Whereas turn- 
of-the-century U.S. society condemned sexually active women as “wanton 
whores,” 1970s U.S. society tended to celebrate them as “sex experimenters” 
or healthy role models for sexually repressed women to emulate. Comment- 
ing on this state of affairs, Mitchell observed that too much sex, like too little 
sex, can be oppressive. 66 Women can be made to feel that something is 
wrong with them if they are not sexually active or sexually preoccupied. 

Mitchell speculated that patriarchal ideology, which views women as 
lovers, wives, and mothers rather than as workers, is almost as responsible for 
women’s position in society as capitalist economics is. She claimed that even 
if a Marxist revolution destroyed the family as an economic unit, it would 
not thereby make women men’s equals automatically. Because of the ways in 
which patriarchal ideology has constructed men’s and women’s psyches, 



Contemporary Socialist Feminism: General Reflections 113 


women would probably continue to remain subordinate to men until their 
minds and men’s minds had been liberated from the idea that women are 
somehow less valuable than men. 

Alison Jaggar. Like Mitchell, Alison Jaggar provided a two-system explana- 
tions of women’s oppression. But in the final analysis, instead of identifying 
capitalism as the primary cause of women’s low status, she reserved this 
“honor” for patriarchy. Capitalism oppresses women as workers, but patri- 
archy oppresses women as women, an oppression that affects women’s iden- 
tity as well as activity. A woman is always a woman, even when she is not 
working. Rejecting the classical Marxist doctrine that a person has to partici- 
pate directly in the capitalist relations of production to be considered truly 
alienated, Jaggar claimed, as did Foreman above, that all women, no matter 
their work role, are alienated in ways that men are not. 67 

Jaggar organized her discussion of women’s alienation under the headings of 
sexuality, motherhood, and intellectuality. In the same way wageworkers may be 
alienated from the product(s) on which they work, women, viewed simply as 
women, may be alienated from the “product(s)” on which they typically 
work — their bodies. Women may insist that they diet, exercise, and dress only 
to please themselves, but in reality they most likely shape and adorn their flesh 
primarily for the pleasure of men. Moreover, women do not have final or total 
say about when, where, how, or by whom their bodies will be used, because 
their bodies can be suddenly appropriated from them through acts ranging 
from the “male gaze” to sexual harassment to rape. Likewise, to the same degree 
that wageworkers can be gradually alienated from themselves — their bodies 
beginning to feel like things, mere machines from which labor power is 
extracted — women can be gradually alienated from themselves. To the degree 
that women work on their bodies — shaving their underarms, slimming their 
thighs and augmenting their breasts, painting their nails and coloring their 
hair — they may start to experience their bodies as objects or commodities. 
Finally, just as many wageworkers are in competition with each other for their 
employers’ approbation and rewards, many women are in competition with 
each other for men’s approbation and reward. 68 

Motherhood, continued Jaggar, may also be an alienating experience for 
women, especially when mostly or exclusively men decide the policies and 
laws that regulate women’s reproductive choices. For example, in societies 
that use children’s labor power nearly as much as adults’ labor power, women 
may be pressured to bear as many children as physically possible. In contrast, 
in societies that view children as an economic burden for parents to support, 
women may be discouraged from having large families. Indeed, women may 



114 Chapter 3: Marxist and Socialist Feminism 


be pressured or even forced to use contraception, be sterilized, or have an 
abortion. 69 

In the same way that women may be alienated from the product of their 
reproductive labor, said Jaggar, women may be alienated from the process of 
their reproductive labor. Obstetricians may try to take control of the birthing 
process, performing medically unnecessary cesarean sections or anesthetizing 
women about to deliver against their wishes. Moreover, as the new reproduc- 
tive technologies develop, an increasing number of women may be alienated 
from both the product and the process of reproduction in even more dramatic 
ways. For instance, as noted in Chapter 2, in vitro fertilization makes possible 
gestational surrogacy. With this technology, a woman can have one or more of 
her eggs surgically removed, fertilized in vitro with her partners sperm, and 
then transferred into the womb of another woman for gestation. The woman 
who gestates the child contracts to return the child to the couple for rearing. 
Raising the same type of concerns that some radical-cultural feminists raised 
about gestational surrogacy in Chapter 2, Jaggar claimed that such arrange- 
ments do not do full justice to the gestational mother in particular. By virtue 
of her reproductive work, the embryo is shaped into a viable human infant to 
which she may be emotionally as well as physically bonded. Should not this 
circumstance give her some parental claim to the child, even though she did 
not provide the “raw material,” the egg, for the child? 70 

Child-rearing, like childbearing, may also be an alienating experience for 
women when scientific experts (most of whom are men) take charge of it, 
stressed Jaggar. 71 As she saw it, the pressures on mothers are enormous be- 
cause, with virtually no assistance, they are supposed to execute every edict 
issued by child-rearing authorities, some of whom have never experienced 
the daily demands of child rearing. Echoing the thoughts of Adrienne Rich 
in Of Woman Born (see Chapter 2), Jaggar explained how contemporary 
child-rearing practices may ultimately alienate or estrange mothers from 
their children: The extreme mutual dependence of mother and child encour- 
ages the mother to define the child primarily with reference to her own needs 
for meaning, love, and social recognition. She sees the child as her product, 
as something that should improve her life and that often instead stands 
against her, as something of supreme value, that is held cheap by society. The 
social relations of contemporary motherhood make it impossible for her to 
see the child as a whole person, part of a larger community to which both 
mother and child belong. 72 

One of the saddest features of a mothers possible alienation from her chil- 
dren, then, is that her inability to see her children as persons may be matched 
only by their inability to see her as a person. Alluding to Dorothy Dinnerstein 



Contemporary Socialist Feminism: General Reflections 115 


and some other psychoanalytic feminists, Jaggar described how some children 
turn on their mothers, blaming them for everything that goes wrong in their 
lives: “I’m a failure because you, my mother, loved me too much/ too little.” In 
addition to separating mothers from their children, the conditions of contem- 
porary motherhood can drive wedges between mothers and fathers, said Jaggar. 
All too often, a domestic dispute begins with a father’s laying down the law for 
the kids and a mother’s defying its terms. Furthermore, the standards govern- 
ing proper mothering sometimes impede the growth of genuine friendships 
between women, as mothers compete to rear the “perfect child” 73 — that is, the 
well-mannered, multitalented, physically attractive, achievement-oriented boy 
or girl whose photograph appears on every other page of the yearbook. 

Finally, said Jaggar, not only may many women be alienated from their own 
sexuality and from the product and process of motherhood, but they may also 
be alienated from their own intellectual capacities. Many women feel so unsure 
of themselves that they hesitate to express their ideas in public, for fear their 
thoughts are not worth expressing; they remain silent when they should loudly 
voice their opinion. Worse, when women do express their thoughts forcefully 
and with passion, their ideas are often rejected as irrational or the product of 
mere emotion. To the extent men set the terms of thought and discourse, sug- 
gested Jaggar, women cannot be at ease in the world of theory. 74 

Jaggar concluded that although the overthrow of capitalism might end 
women’s as well as men’s exploitation in the productive workforce, it would not 
end women’s alienation from everything and everyone, especially themselves. 75 
Only the overthrow of patriarchy would enable women to become full persons. 

Interactive-System Explanations of Women’s Oppression 

In contrast to two-system explanations, which, as we have just noted, tended 
to identify either class or sex as the primary source of women’s oppression, 
interactive-system explanations strove to present capitalism and patriarchy as 
two equal partners colluding in a variety of ways to oppress women. Interac- 
tive-system thinkers included Iris Marion Young, Heidi Hartmann, and 
Sylvia Walby. To a greater or lesser extent, these contemporary socialist femi- 
nists used terms like “capitalist patriarchy” or “patriarchal capitalism” in their 
work. Trying hard never to view one system as more fundamental to women’s 
oppression than the other system, these feminists wanted to stress the inter- 
dependency of capitalism and patriarchy. 

Iris Marion Young. According to Iris Marion Young, as long as classical Marx- 
ist feminists try to use class as their central category of analysis, they will not be 



116 Chapter 3: Marxist and Socialist Feminism 

able to explain why women in socialist countries are often just as oppressed as 
women in capitalist countries. Precisely because class is a gender-blind category, 
said Young, it cannot provide an adequate explanation for women’s specific 
oppression. Only a gender-sighted category such as the “sexual division of 
labor” has the conceptual power to do this. 

Young reasoned that whereas class analysis looks at the system of production 
as a whole, focusing on the means and relations of production in the most gen- 
eral terms possible, a sexual division-of-labor analysis pays attention to the 
characteristics of the individual people who do the producing in society. In 
other words, a class analysis calls only for a general discussion of the respective 
roles of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, whereas a sexual division-of-labor 
analysis requires a detailed discussion of who gives the orders and who takes 
them, who does the stimulating work and who does the drudge work, who 
works more hours and who works less hours, and who gets paid relatively high 
wages and who gets paid relatively low wages. Therefore, as compared with a 
class analysis, a sexual division-of-labor analysis can better explain why women 
usually take the orders, do the drudge jobs, work part-time, and get paid rela- 
tively low wages, whereas men usually give the orders, do the stimulating jobs, 
work full-time, and get paid relatively high wages. 

Because she believed that capitalism and patriarchy are necessarily 
linked, Young insisted that a sexual division-of-labor analysis is a total sub- 
stitute for, not a mere supplement to, class analysis. We do not need one 
theory (Marxism) to explain gender-neutral capitalism and another theory 
(feminism) to explain gender-biased patriarchy, said Young. Rather, we need 
a single theory — a socialist feminist theory — able to explain gender-biased 
(i.e. , patriarchal) capitalism. “My thesis,” wrote Young, “is that marginaliza- 
tion of women and thereby our functioning as a secondary labor force is an 
essential and fundamental characteristic of capitalism. ” 76 

Young’s thesis is a controversial one, a major departure from the more tradi- 
tional Marxist view that workers, be they male or female, are interchangeable. 
She argued that capitalism is very much aware of its workers’ gender and, I 
may add, race and ethnicity. Because a large reserve of unemployed workers is 
necessary to keep wages low and to meet unanticipated demands for increased 
supplies of goods and services, capitalism has both implicit and explicit criteria 
for determining who will constitute its primary, employed workforce and who 
will act as its secondary, unemployed workforce. For a variety of reasons, not 
the least being a well-entrenched gender division of labor, capitalism’s criteria 
identify men as “primary” workforce material and women as “secondary.” 
Because women are needed at home in a way men are not — or so patriarchy 
believes — men are freer to work outside the home than women are. 



Contemporary Socialist Feminism: General Reflections 117 


Under capitalism as it exists today, women experience patriarchy as 
unequal wages for equal work, sexual harassment on the job, uncompen- 
sated domestic work, and the pernicious dynamics of the public-private 
split. Earlier generations of women also experienced patriarchy, but they 
lived it differently, depending on the dynamics of the reigning economic 
system. As with class society, reasoned Young, patriarchy should not be con- 
sidered a system separate from capitalism just because it existed first. In fact, 
class and gender structures are so intertwined that neither one actually pre- 
cedes the other. A feudal system of gender relations accompanied a feudal 
system of class arrangements, and the social relations of class and gender 
grew up together and evolved over time into the forms we now know (e.g., 
the capitalist nuclear family). To say gender relations are independent of 
class relations is to ignore how history works. 

Heidi Hartmann. Reinforcing Young’s analysis, Heidi Hartmann noted that 
a strict class analysis leaves largely unexplained why women rather than men 
play the subordinate and submissive roles in both the workplace and the home. 
To understand not only workers’ relation to capital but also women’s relation 
to men, said Hartmann, a feminist analysis of patriarchy must be integrated 
with a Marxist analysis of capitalism. In her estimation, the partnership 
between patriarchy and capitalism is complex because patriarchy’s interests in 
women are not always the same as capitalism’s interests in women. In the nine- 
teenth century, for example, proletarian men wanted proletarian women to 
stay at home, where women could “personally service” men. 77 In contrast, 
bourgeoisie men wanted proletarian women to work for next to nothing in the 
productive workforce. The bourgeoisie presented this option to proletarian 
women as an opportunity to earn “pin money” to supplement their men’s puny 
take-home pay. Only if all men — be they proletarian or bourgeoisie — could 
find some mutually agreeable way to handle this particular “woman question” 
could the interests of patriarchy and capitalism be harmonized. 

To some degree, this harmony was achieved when bourgeoisie men agreed 
to pay proletarian men a family wage large enough to permit them to keep 
their wives and children at home, said Hartmann. Bourgeoisie men struck 
this bargain with proletarian men because the bourgeoisie decided that, all 
things considered, (1) stay-at-home housewives would produce and maintain 
healthier, happier, and therefore more productive male workers than working 
wives would, and (2) women and children could always be persuaded at a 
later date to enter the workforce for low wages should male workers demand 
high wages. For a time, this arrangement worked well enough, but over time, 
the size of the family wage shrank and many proletarian men could no longer 



118 Chapter 3 : Marxist and Socialist Feminism 

pay all their family’s bills. Consequently, many proletarian women decided to 
enter the workforce not to earn “pin money,” but to earn enough money to 
help their male partners support the family’s true living costs. 78 Regrettably, 
these women typically came home to male partners who had little or no inter- 
est in helping with domestic work. Hartmann concluded that women were in 
a no-win situation when it came to work-related issues. Everywhere women 
turned, the sexual division of labor disadvantaged them. The only possible 
hope for women was to fight capitalism and patriarchy simultaneously. These 
two systems are simply two heads of the same beast: capitalist patriarchy. 

Sylvia Walby. Like Young and Hartmann, Sylvia Walby conceptualized 
patriarchy and capitalism as developing in tandem. As she saw it, patriarchy is 
located in six somewhat independent structures: unpaid domestic work, waged 
labor, culture, sexuality, male violence, and the state. 79 These structures, and 
their relative importance, vary from one historical era to another. Walby noted, 
for example, that patriarchy oppressed women mostly in the private sphere of 
domestic production during the nineteenth century, and mostly in the public 
sphere of waged labor and the state in the twentieth century. 

Focusing on workplace gender inequity in the United Kingdom in particu- 
lar, Walby observed that in 1992, the British government made full employ- 
ment for both men and women one of its main goals. As a result of this 
development in government policy, more women than ever entered the pro- 
ductive workforce, where they gained not only economic clout but also a 
strong political voice. Their collective power grew so much that the traditional 
British “strong male breadwinner logic” no longer made much sense. The 
British government became convinced that to compete successfully in the Eu- 
ropean Union, the nation needed to provide women workers with hours that 
were more flexible, ample childcare, and decent minimum wages. More opti- 
mistic than some of the socialist feminists who preceded her, Walby claimed 
that at least in the United Kingdom, “the modernization of the gender regime 
is creating a new political constituency of working women who are vocalizing 
their perceived interests in policies to assist combining home and work.” 80 


Women’s Labor Issues 

The preceding discussion suggests that the distinctions some socialist femi- 
nists make between two-system explanations and interactive-system explana- 
tions for women’s oppression are somewhat forced and probably of more 
theoretical than practical interest to the average woman. Yet the relevance of 
contemporary socialist feminism’s overall message for women cannot be 



Womens Labor Issues 119 


overstated. Worldwide, women’s oppression is strongly related to the fact 
that women’s work, be it at home or outside the home, is still unpaid, under- 
paid, or disvalued, a state of affairs that largely explains women’s lower status 
and power nearly everywhere. 

Although much more could be said about women’s domestic work than 
we have discussed, suffice it to say that according to 1995 calculations of 
the International Labour Organization (ILO), “if the household duties 
performed by women were calculated as productive activity in the various 
systems of national accounting, the value of the world’s GDP (gross 
domestic product) would increase by 25 to 30 percent.” 81 Whether they 
live in developing or developed nations, socialist or capitalist nations, 
women still do the majority of unpaid work in the home, even when they 
also do full-time or part-time paid work outside the home. The “double 
day” alluded to several times in our general discussion of socialist feminist 
thought is a very hard day. Many women would be far more physically and 
psychologically happy if they worked only a “single day.” Yet women are 
likely to continue to work double shifts, so to speak, as long as domestic 
work is viewed as women’s work. 

Although contemporary socialist feminists continue to bemoan the fact 
that women do too much work for free in the home, they have increasingly 
turned their attention to how little women are paid for the work they do out- 
side the home. In particular, contemporary socialist feminists have focused on 
the gender pay gap and the often oppressive nature of women’s work in the 
so-called global factory. To ignore these issues in this chapter would be to play 
into the unfortunate impression that just because “communism” has failed, 
and the old Soviet Union has been dismantled, all types of Marxist and social- 
ist feminism are dead. On the contrary, said Nancy Holmstrom: 

Today, the socialist feminist project is more pressing than ever. . . . The 
brutal economic realities of globalization impact everyone across the 
globe — but women are affected disproportionately. Displaced by eco- 
nomic changes, women bear a greater burden of labor throughout the 
world as social services have been cut, whether in response to structural 
adjustment plans in the third world or to so-called welfare reform in the 
United States. Women have been forced to migrate, are subject to traf- 
ficking, and are the proletarians of the newly industrializing countries. 

On top of all this they continue to be subject to sexual violence and in 
much of the world are not allowed to control their own processes of 
reproduction. How should we understand these phenomena and, more 
importantly, how do we go about changing them? Feminist theory that is 



120 Chapter 3: Marxist and Socialist Feminism 


lost in theoretical abstractions or that depreciates economic realities will 
be useless for this purpose. Feminism that speaks of women’s oppression 
and its injustice but fails to address capitalism will be of little help in end- 
ing women’s oppression. Marxism’s analysis of history, of capitalism, and 
of social change is certainly relevant to understanding these economic 
changes, but if its categories of analysis are understood in a gender- or 
race-neutral way it will be unable to do justice to them. Socialist femi- 
nism is the approach with the greatest capacity to illuminate the exploita- 
tion and oppression of most of the women of the world. 82 

Gender Pay Gap 

Most, though not all, nations have gender pay gaps, in the estimation of 
Shawn Meghan Burn. Japan has a particularly egregious one. Japanese women 
earn only 51 percent of Japanese men’s wages. 83 However, the situation is dra- 
matically different in Sri Lanka, where women earn 96 percent of men’s 
wages. 84 In the United States, women earned 81.7 percent of men’s wages in 
2006. 85 There is, however, data to support the claim that U.S. women’s most 
recent wage gains are in some measure the result of U.S. men’s wage losses. 86 

Some of the most frequently cited reasons for the gender pay gap are (1) 
the concentration of women in low-paying, female-dominated jobs; (2) the 
high percentage of women who work part-time rather than full-time; and (3) 
outright wage discrimination against women. Worldwide, women tend to 
engage in service work (teaching, nursing, childcare), clerical work, agricul- 
tural work (picking fruit), and light industrial work (producing clothes, shoes, 
toys, and electronic devices), while men tend to engage in heavy industrial 
work, transportation work, management, administration, and policy work. 87 

Although U.S. women have gained some access to high-paying, male- 
dominated jobs like construction and trucking in recent years, their numbers 
in these occupations remain relatively small. A January 2006 report from the 
Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, shows that there are 6.9 million men 
and only 172,000 women in the construction and extraction occupations. 
Similarly, whereas there are 2.7 million men in the category “driver/sales 
workers and truck drivers,” there are only 1 13,000 women in this category. 88 
Also worrisome is that despite a significant increase in the number of women 
in such major professions as business, health care, and legal services, women 
in these professions continue to hit the “glass ceiling,” that is, “the invisible 
but effective barrier which prevents women from moving beyond a certain 
point on the promotion ladder.” 89 For example, in the United States, women 
chief executive officers, especially in the Fortune 500 companies, are relatively 



Women’s Labor Issues 121 


few, whereas the number of women in less lucrative and prestigious jobs such 
as human resources and accounting are legion. 90 Similarly, it is no accident 
that there are 370,000 male physicians and surgeons in the United States, but 
only 188,000 female physicians and surgeons. Nor is it an accident that 
female registered nurses outnumber male registered nurses 1.7 million to 
185,000 in the United States. 91 Another notable statistic, this time in the area 
of legal services, reveals that U.S. women are more likely to be paralegals than 
are U.S. men. Indeed, in the United States, there are only 34,000 male parale- 
gals and legal assistants, compared with 267,000 female paralegals and legal 
assistants. 92 Add to all these statistics the fact that there are 2.2 million men in 
computer and mathematical occupations, compared with 756,000 women, 
and 2.2 million male engineers compared with 364,000 female engineers, 93 
and one must conclude that women’s access to high-paying, high-status occu- 
pations and professions in the United States remains limited. 

Beyond U.S. women’s relative lack of access to certain high-paying jobs, 94 
another explanation for the gender pay gap is women’s tendency to limit the 
time they devote to work in the productive workforce. Far more women than 
men work part-time, 95 and far more women than men leave the productive 
workforce for months or even years to tend to family matters. 96 Thus, over 
time, women earn less than men, simply because women work fewer hours 
and years than men typically do. 

As tempting as it may be to explain part of the current gender pay gap in 
terms of women’s decision to work less hours or years in the paid workforce, 
this explanation does not address the question contemporary socialist femi- 
nists have since forcefully ask: Namely, why is it that women limit their paid 
work outside the home in ways that men do not? Is it because women do 
not want to work long hours outside the home? Or is it because women 
view the money they earn as luxury money they can forsake? Or is it be- 
cause women think it is their responsibility rather than men’s to take time 
off work to rear their children properly or to take care of their sick relatives 
and aging parents, or to do both? 

One of the most disturbing aspects of the gender pay gap is that even when 
women work full-time, stay in the workforce, and do the same jobs that men 
do, women’s wages often lag behind men’s. 97 Clearly, this state of affairs 
requires not only a “capitalist” explanation (women are paid less because their 
wages are viewed as secondary wages), but also a “patriarchal” explanation: 
Women are paid less simply because they are women, a very disturbing 
thought to say the least. 

In addition to not answering the question why women, rather than men, 
limit their time in the workforce, the human-capital approach does not explain 



122 Chapter 3: Marxist and Socialist Feminism 


why many employers prefer to hire women as part-timers. Could it be 
that female part-time workers, who, by the way, are usually not entitled to 
employer-paid benefit packages, can be easily motivated to work longer 
hours than they should? Acculturated to help out in a pinch, women who 
work part-time may work longer and harder than their contract specifies, 
simply because they do not want to let other people down. 

Feminist solutions to the gender pay gap are various, depending on which 
aspects of the gap are put under the microscope or require the most atten- 
tion. Liberal feminists prefer the remedy of equal pay for equal work. They 
invoke legislation such as the U.S. 1963 Pay Act, which mandates that 
women’s pay should be equal to men’s when their positions are equal. 98 
Although the Equal Pay Act sounds like an ideal tool for U.S. women to use, 
it may not be. Equal Pay Act civil suits put the burden of proof on the shoul- 
ders of the plaintiff. She has to prove that her work position is the same as 
that of a comparable male employee. Such proof might be relatively easy to 
secure in some lines of work such as mail carrier or flight attendant, but it is 
far harder to secure in a profession such as law, where different labels such as 
“associate,” “assistant,” and “partner” can be used to make two virtually iden- 
tical positions sound quite different. 99 Moreover, the usefulness of the Equal 
Pay Act as a reference point for gender-based civil suits seems predicated on 
women’s gaining access to slots in male-dominated jobs or professions. The 
act does little, if anything, to question the sexual division of labor per se, that 
is, to question why the kind of work men typically do tends to be valued 
more than the kind of work women typically do. 

Viewing liberal feminists’ preference for an equal-pay-for-equal-work 
remedy for the gender pay gap as a capitulation to the view that women have 
to be like men (in this instance, work like men) to be valued like men, many 
contemporary socialist feminists have joined with many radical-cultural fem- 
inists to endorse a comparable-worth remedy for the gender pay gap. As they 
see it, a comparable-worth remedy for the gender pay gap is an opportunity 
not only to secure better wages for women but also to force society to recon- 
sider why it pays some people so much and others so little. 100 

Many social scientists are convinced that as long as women remain in tradi- 
tionally female-dominated jobs and, more significantly, as long as society con- 
tinues to assign less value to female-dominated jobs than to male-dominated 
jobs, the gender pay gap is likely to persist. Society needs to ask itself why in 
the United States, registered nurses, 91.9 percent female, earned an average of 
$971 weekly in 2006, whereas airplane pilots and flight engineers, 71 percent 
male, earned $1,419 weekly; childcare workers, 78 percent female, earned 
$345 weekly, whereas construction managers, 12 percent male, earned $1,145 



Womens Labor Issues 123 


weekly. 101 Do such pay differentials exist because, for example, flying planes is 
so much more physically, psychologically, and intellectually demanding than, 
for example, nursing? Or do they exist simply because most airplane pilots are 
men and most nurses are women? 

Convinced that gender considerations factor into how much or how lit- 
tle workers are paid, comparable-worth advocates demand that employers 
evaluate their employees objectively by assigning “worth points” to the four 
components found in most jobs: (1) “knowledge and skills,” or the total 
amount of information or dexterity needed to perform the job; (2) “mental 
demands,” or the extent to which the job requires decision making; (3) 
“accountability,” or the amount of supervision the job entails; and (4) 
“working conditions,” such as how physically safe the job is. 102 When Nor- 
man D. Willis and Associates used this index to establish the worth points 
for various jobs performed in the state of Washington in the 1980s, they 
found the following disparities: “A Food Service I, at 93 points, earned an 
average salary of $472 per month, while a Delivery Truck Driver I, at 94 
points, earned $792; a Clerical Supervisor III, at 305 points, earned an av- 
erage of $794. A Nurse Practitioner II, at 385 points, had average earnings 
of $832, the same as those of a Boiler Operator, with only 144 points. A 
Homemaker I, with 198 points and an average salary of $462, had the low- 
est earnings of all evaluated jobs.” 103 After reflecting on the Willis and As- 
sociates study, a federal court judge in Tacoma ruled that the state was in 
violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits dis- 
crimination by type of employment and level of compensation, and should 
eliminate pay gaps within its systems. 104 

On the average, contemporary socialist feminists support a comparable- 
worth approach to further reducing the gender wage pay gap, for two 
reasons — one having to do with addressing the feminization of poverty, and 
the other with addressing the valuation of different kinds of work. Because 
61 percent of all poor families are headed by single women 105 and because 
women are the primary recipients of food stamps, legal aid, and Medicaid, if 
wage-earning women in female-dominated jobs were paid what their jobs are 
worth, these women might be able to support themselves and their families 
adequately without being forced, in one way or another, to attach themselves 
to men as a source of desperately needed income. In addition to seeing com- 
parable worth as a way to alleviate women’s poverty, contemporary socialist 
feminists see it as a way to highlight the arbitrariness of societal determina- 
tions about what kind of work counts as “worthy” work. According to Teresa 
Amott and Julie Matthaei, for example, we need to ask ourselves questions 
such as the following one: 



124 Chapter 3: Marxist and Socialist Feminism 

Why should those whose jobs give them the most opportunity to develop 
and use their abilities also be paid the most? The traditional argument — 
that higher pay must be offered as an incentive for workers to gain skills 
and training — is contradicted by the fact that our highly paid jobs attract 
many more workers than employers demand. And given unequal access 
to education and training, a hierarchical pay scheme becomes a mecha- 
nism for the intergenerational transmission of wealth privilege, with its 
historically-linked racism, sexism, and classism. 106 

Clearly, the comparable-worth remedy for the gender pay gap has more poten- 
tial to destabilize capitalist forces than does the equal-pay-for-equal-work remedy 
for the gender pay gap. The question is whether consumerism writ large has made 
it all too difficult for a sufficient number of people to challenge the status quo. 

Women’s Work in the Global Market 

In recent years, contemporary socialist feminists have sought to move beyond 
analyzing the gender pay gap in developed nations to discussing the working 
conditions of women in developing nations. The forces of so-called globaliza- 
tion — described by the World Bank as the “growing integration of economies 
and societies around the world” 107 — have resulted in the creation of very 
large, profit-driven multinational corporations. Most of these multinationals 
have as their point of origin one or more developed nations and as their point 
of destination one or more developing nations. Interestingly multinationals 
in developing nations prefer to hire women not only because so many women 
need work but also because their manual dexterity and docility make them 
ideal sweatshop workers. 

To better understand how much profit, say, a U.S. multinational may 
make by moving its plants to a developing nation, we need read only some 
late 1990s statistics compiled by Shawn Meghan Burn: 

The maquiladoras of Mexico’s border towns are but one example of women in 
the global factory. 

There, over 2,000 multinational corporations have drawn over a half 
million workers, two-thirds of them women, who get paid between $3.75 
and $4.50 a day. In El Salvador, women employees of the Taiwanese 
maquilador Mandarin are forced to work shifts of 12 to 21 hours during 
which they are seldom allowed bathroom breaks; they are paid about 1 8 
cents per shirt, which is later sold for $20 each. Mandarin makes clothes 
for the Gap, J. Crew, and Eddie Bauer. 



Critiques of Marxist atid Socialist Feminism 125 


In Haiti, women sewing clothing at Disney’s contract plants are paid 6 
cents for every $ 1 9.99 101 Dalmatians outfit they sew; they make 33 cents an 
hour. Meanwhile, Disney makes record profits and could easily pay workers a 
living wage for less than one half of 1 percent of the sales price of one outfit. 

In Vietnam, 90 percent of Nike s workers are females between the ages of 1 5 
and 28. Nike’s labor for a pair of basketball shoes (which retail for $149.50) 
costs Nike $1.50, 1 percent of the retail price. 108 

The executives of U.S. multinationals defend such low wages on the 
grounds that the wages are higher than those the workers would otherwise 
receive. Another argument is that the wages the multinationals pay are, at 
least, a living wage — that is, a wage sufficient to meet the subsistence needs 
of a family. But such claims, particularly the second one, are not always true. 
Other statistics compiled by Bum revealed, for example, that in the 1990s, 
Nicaraguan sweatshop workers earned in the range of $55 to $75 a month — 
less than half of the $165 a month their families needed to meet their most 
basic needs. 109 To be sure, some multinationals do pay their workers — 
female and male — living wages, but such multinationals seem to be more the 
exception rather than the rule. 

Disturbed by the situation just described, contemporary socialist feminists 
have recently taken a lead in trying to improve not only pay but working con- 
ditions in sweatshops. Some of the strategies they have used involve the 
unionization of workers (even more difficult to achieve in today’s developing 
nations than it was in the early days of union organizing in the United States) 
and consumer boycotts of sweatshop imports. 110 

Critiques of Marxist and Socialist Feminism 

Given women’s distinctly unprivileged position in the workplace, it is some- 
what difficult to understand why beginning in the 1970s, many feminists, 
including some Marxist feminists, abandoned materialist explanations of 
women’s oppression. They turned instead to psychological explanations for 
women’s oppression, explanations that could answer the question why 
women’s status remains low irrespective of the political and economic charac- 
ter of the society in which they live. For example, the same Juliet Mitchell 
who wrote Womens Estate in 1971 wrote Psychoanalysis and Feminism several 
years later. 111 In the later book, Mitchell claimed that the causes of women’s 
oppression are ultimately buried deep in the human psyche. 

Mitchell rejected liberal feminists’ claim that social reforms aimed at 
giving women more educational and occupational opportunities will 



126 Chapter 3: Marxist and Socialist Feminism 

make women men’s equals. Women’s suffrage, coeducational studies, and 
affirmative action policies might change the way “femininity” is expressed, 
but these practices could not, in her view, significantly change the overall 
status of women. Likewise, Mitchell rejected the claim of radical-cultural 
feminists that reproductive technology is the key to women’s liberation, 
because, as she saw it, a purely biological solution cannot resolve an essen- 
tially psychological problem. Finally, Mitchell rejected the claim of classic 
Marxist feminists that an economic revolution aimed at overthrowing 
capitalism will make men and women full partners. Just because women 
enter the productive workforce to labor side by side with men does not 
mean women will return home in the evening arm in arm with men. 
Mitchell observed that even Mao Zedong admitted that “despite collective 
work, egalitarian legislation, social care of children, etc., it was too soon 
for the Chinese really, deeply and irrevocably to have changed their atti- 
tudes towards women.” 112 As Mitchell saw it, attitudes toward women will 
never really change as long as both female and male psychology are domi- 
nated by the phallic symbol. Thus, patriarchy and capitalism must be 
overthrown if society is to be truly humanized. 113 

Interestingly, the publication of Psychoanalysis and Feminism coincided 
with the first few issues of m/fi devoted to questioning the bipolar opposition 
between masculinity and femininity. Launched in 1978, the first editorial of 
this British journal provided a strong statement of both dissatisfaction with 
classical Marxist models and the move toward cultural analysis. The editors 
placed themselves firmly within Marxism, expressing a wish to engage with 
class politics, but were explicitly critical of materialist explanations of 
women’s oppression. Psychoanalysis was seen by the editors as essential to an 
understanding of gendered subjectivity. So too was discourse, the language 
used to interpret women’s identity and activity. Their next editorial ques- 
tioned the very category “women,” suggesting that there is no unity to 
“women,” or to “women’s oppression,” and that differing discourses simply 
constructed varying definitions of “women.” 114 Thus began the deconstruc- 
tion of “women” and the ascendancy of postmodern feminism, a type of 
feminism we will consider in Chapter 8. 

Conclusion 

As understandable as it was for many feminists to look under materialist sur- 
faces to find deeper cultural explanations for women’s oppression, it was 
probably a mistake for them to reject materialist explanations outright. Stevi 



Conclusion 127 


Jackson recently made a plea for a return to materialism — a plea that may 
rescue contemporary socialist feminism from undeserved neglect: 

A materialist analysis is as relevant now as it ever was. While accepting that 
traditional Marxists had little to say about gender divisions, that one 
theory cannot explain the whole of human life, the method of analysis 
Marx left us remains useful. There are good reasons why materialist per- 
spectives remain necessary to grapple with the complexities of a postcolo- 
nial world, with the intersections of gender, ethnicity, and nationality. It 
seems evident that the material foundations and consequences of institu- 
tionalized racism, the heritage of centuries of slavery, colonialism and im- 
perialism and the continued international division of labour are at least as 
important as culturally constituted difference. We live our lives now 
within a global system characterised by extremely stark material inequali- 
ties. Even within Western nations the material oppression suffered by 
women has not gone away and for many women the situation is worsen- 
ing as a result of unemployment and cuts in welfare provision. Intersec- 
tions between class, gender, and racism are clearly important here, too, 
and need to be pursued in terms of structural patterning of inequality as 
well as multilayered identities. The continued vitality of approaches which 
deal with such inequalities is crucial for feminist politics and theory. 115 

However exciting it may be for contemporary socialist feminists to probe 
women’s psyche from time to time, the fundamental goal of these feminists 
needs to remain constant: to encourage women everywhere to unite in whatever 
ways they can to oppose structures of oppression, inequality, and injustice. 




Psychoanalytic Feminism 


Each school of feminist thought we have considered so far has offered expla- 
nations and solutions for women’s oppression that are rooted either in soci- 
ety’s political and economic structures or in human beings’ sexual and 
reproductive relationships, roles, and practices. Liberal feminists claimed 
that providing women with the same rights and opportunities men enjoy 
may be enough to eliminate gender inequity. Radical feminists thought oth- 
erwise. They insisted that if gender equity is our goal, we must first examine 
men’s and women’s sexual and reproductive rights and responsibilities. Only 
then will we understand fully why systems that foster male domination and 
female subordination are so persistent and prevalent. Radical-libertarian 
feminists claimed that women need to be liberated not only from the bur- 
dens of natural reproduction and biological motherhood but also from the 
restrictions of a sexual double standard that gives men sexual freedoms 
women are typically denied. Radical-cultural feminists disagreed. They 
claimed that the source of women’s power is rooted in women’s unique 
reproductive role. All children are born of women; without women no chil- 
dren would be bom. Radical-cultural feminists also stressed that male sexual 
behavior is not worthy of women’s emulation, because men frequently use 
sex as an instrument of control and domination rather than of love and 
bonding. Finally, Marxist and socialist feminists hypothesized that unless 
capitalist economic structures are destroyed, people will continue to be 
divided into two oppositional classes — the haves and the have-nots — and 
because of the ways in which capitalism and patriarchy reinforce each other, 
women, more than men, will find themselves in the ranks of the have-nots. 

In contrast to liberal, radical (libertarian and cultural), and Marxist/socialist 
feminists, psychoanalytic feminists maintain that the fundamental explanation 


128 




Sigmund Freud 129 


for women’s way of acting is rooted deep in women’s psyche, specifically, in 
women’s way of thinking about themselves as women. Relying on Freudian con- 
structs such as the pre-Oedipal stage and the Oedipal stage (explained below) 
and/or on Lacanian constructs such as the Symbolic order (also explained 
below), they claim that gender identity and hence gender inequity is rooted in a 
series of infantile and early childhood experiences. These experiences, most of 
which are accessible to us only through psychoanalysis, are, in the estimation of 
psychoanalytic feminists, the cause of individuals’ viewing themselves in mascu- 
line or feminine terms, of thinking of themselves as boys or girls. Moreover, 
these same experiences are the cause of society’s privileging things “masculine” 
over things “feminine.” Hypothesizing that in a nonpatriarchal society, mas- 
culinity and femininity would be both differently constructed and valued, psy- 
choanalytic feminists recommend that we work toward such a society by altering 
our early infantile childhood experiences or, more radically, transforming the lin- 
guistic structures that cause us to think of ourselves as men or women. 

Sigmund Freud 

By no means was Sigmund Freud a feminist, yet psychoanalytic feminists 
have found in his writings clues about how to better understand the causes 
and consequences of women’s oppression. Freud’s theories about psychosexual 
development disturbed his late-nineteenth-century Viennese contemporaries 
not so much because he addressed traditionally taboo topics (e.g., homosexu- 
ality, sadism, masochism, and oral and anal sex), but because he theorized that 
all sexual “aberrations,” “variations,” and “perversions” are simply stages in the 
development of normal human sexuality. 1 According to Freud, children go 
through distinct psychosexual developmental stages, and their gender identity 
as adults is the result of how well or badly they have weathered this process. 
Masculinity and femininity are, in other words, the product of sexual matura- 
tion. If boys develop “normally” (i.e., typically), they will end up as men who 
display expected masculine traits; if women develop “normally,” they will end 
up as women who display expected feminine traits. 

The theoretical bases for Freud’s views on the relationship between sex and 
gender are found in Three Contributions to the Theory of Sexuality. In this work, 
Freud laid out his theory of psychosexual development in detail. Because adults 
in Freud’s time equated sexual activity with reproductive genital sexuality (het- 
erosexual intercourse), adults thought children were sexless. Dismissing this 
view of children’s sexualities as naive, Freud argued that far from being without 
sexual interests, children engage in all sorts of sexual behavior. He claimed that 
children’s sexuality is “polymorphous perverse” — that insofar as the infant is 



130 Chapter 4: Psychoanalytic Feminism 

concerned, her or his entire body, especially its orifices and appendages, is sexual 
terrain. The infant moves from this type of “perverse” sexuality to “normal” het- 
erosexual genital sexuality by passing through several stages. During the oral 
stage, the infant receives pleasure from sucking her or his mothers breast or her 
or his own thumb. During the anal stage, the two- or three-year-old child en- 
joys the sensations associated with controlling the expulsion of her or his feces. 
During the phallic stage, the three- or four-year-old child discovers that the gen- 
itals are a source of pleasure, and either resolves or fails to resolve the so-called 
Oedipus complex. Around age six, the child ceases to display overt sexuality and 
begins a period of latency that ends around puberty, when the young person 
enters the genital stage characterized by a resurgence of sexual impulses. If all 
goes normally during this stage, the young person’s libido (defined by Freud as 
undifferentiated sexual energy) will be directed outward, away from autoerotic 
and homoerotic stimulation and toward a member of the opposite sex. 

Freud stressed that the critical moment in the psychosexual drama de- 
scribed above occurs when the child tries to successfully resolve the Oedipus 
complex. He claimed that the fact that only boys have penises fundamentally 
affects the way in which boys and girls undergo psychosexual development. 
The boy’s Oedipus complex stems from his natural attachment to his 
mother, for it is she who nurtures him. Because of the boy’s feelings toward 
his mother, he wants to possess her — to have sexual intercourse with her — 
and to kill his father, the rival for his mother’s attentions. Freud added, how- 
ever, that the boy’s hatred of his father is modulated by his coexisting love for 
his father. Because the boy wants his father to love him, he competes with his 
mother for his father’s affections, experiencing increased antagonism toward 
her. Nevertheless, despite his increased antagonism toward his mother, the 
boy still wishes to possess her and would attempt to take her from his father 
were it not for his fear of being punished by his father. Supposedly, having 
seen either his mother or some other female naked, the boy speculates that 
these creatures without penises must have been castrated, by his father, no 
less. Shaken by this thought, the boy fears his father will castrate him, too, 
should he dare to act on his desire for his mother. Therefore, the boy dis- 
tances himself from his mother, a painful process that propels him into a 
period of sexual latency that will not surface again until the time of puberty. 2 

During the period of sexual latency, the boy begins to develop what Freud 
called a superego. To the degree the superego is the son’s internalization of his fa- 
ther’s values, it is a patriarchal, social conscience. The boy who successfully 
resolves the Oedipus complex develops a particularly strong superego. In the 
course of giving up mother love (albeit out of fear of castration), he learns how 
to defer to the authority of his father. The boy waits his turn for his own 



Sigmund Freud 131 


woman, temporarily subordinating his id (instincts) to his superego (the voice 
of social constraints). Were it not for the trauma of the Oedipus complex and 
his fear of castration, the boy would fail to mature into a man ready, willing, and 
able at the appropriate time to claim the torch of civilization from his father. 

The female experience of the Oedipus complex is dramatically different 
from the male experience, in Freud’s estimation. Like the boy, the girl’s first 
love object is her mother. But unlike the typical boy, whose love object will 
supposedly remain a woman throughout his life, the typical girl has to switch 
from desiring a woman to desiring a man — at first her father and later other 
men who take the place of the father. According to Freud, the transition from 
a female to a male love object begins when the girl realizes she does not have a 
penis, that she is castrated: “They [girls] notice the penis of a brother or play- 
mate, strikingly visible and of large proportions, at once recognize it as the 
superior counterpart of their own small and inconspicuous organ (the cli- 
toris), and from that time forward they fall a victim to envy for the penis.” 3 

Preoccupied by her deficiency, the girl somehow discovers her mother 
also lacks a penis. Distraught by the sight of her mother, the girl looks to 
her father to make good the deficiency she shares with her mother. She does 
not turn away from her mother without feeling an incredible sense of loss, 
however. Freud claimed that like any person who loses a love object, the girl 
will somehow try to become the abandoned love object. Thus, the girl tries 
to take her mother’s place with her father. As a result, the girl comes to hate 
her mother not only because of her mother’s supposedly inferior state of 
being but also because her mother is a rival for the father’s affections. At 
first the girl desires to have her father’s penis, but gradually she begins to 
desire something even more precious — a baby, which for her is the ultimate 
penis substitute. 4 

Freud theorized that it is much more difficult for the girl than the boy to 
achieve normal adult sexuality, precisely because the girl has to stop loving a 
woman (her mother) 5 and start loving a man (her father). This total switch 
in love object requires the girl to derive sexual pleasure from the “feminine” 
vagina instead of the “masculine” clitoris. 6 Freud further theorized that 
before the phallic stage, the girl has active sexual aims. Like the boy, she 
wants to take sexual possession of her mother, but with her clitoris. If the girl 
goes through the phallic stage successfully, said Freud, she will enter the stage 
of latency without this desire, and when genital sensitivity reappears at 
puberty, she will no longer long use her clitoris actively. Instead, the girl will 
be content to use it passively for autoerotic masturbation or as a part of fore- 
play preparatory to heterosexual intercourse. But because the clitoris is not 
easy to desensitize, continued Freud, there is always the possibility the girl 



132 Chapter 4: Psychoanalytic Feminism 

will either regress into the active clitoral stage or, exhausted from suppressing 
her clitoris, give up on sexuality altogether. 

The long-term negative consequences of penis envy and rejection of the 
mother go beyond possible frigidity for the girl. Freud thought the girl’s difficult 
passage through the Oedipus complex scars her with several undesirable gender 
traits as she grows toward womanhood. First, she becomes narcissistic as she 
switches from active to passive sexual aims. Girls, said Freud, seek not so much 
to love as to be loved; the more beautiful a girl is, the more she expects and 
demands to be loved. Second, she becomes vain. As a compensation for her 
original lack of a penis, the girl focuses on her total physical appearance, as if her 
general “good looks” could somehow make up for her penile deficiency. Finally, 
the girl becomes a victim of an exaggerated sense of shame. It is, said Freud, not 
uncommon for girls to be so embarrassed by the sight of their “castrated” bodies 
that they insist on dressing and undressing under their bedsheets. 7 

As bad as female narcissism, vanity, and shame are, Freud suggested these 
character flaws in women are small in comparison to those that most account 
for women’s inferiority as a sex. As discussed earlier, the boy’s fear of castration 
enables him to resolve his Oedipus complex successfully, to submit himself 
fully to the father’s law. In contrast, because the girl has no such fear — since she 
literally has nothing to lose — she moves through the Oedipus complex slowly, 
resisting the father’s laws indefinitely. 8 That the girl is spared the threat of cas- 
tration is, said Freud, a mixed blessing, for only by being pushed, albeit out of 
fear, to fully internalize the father’s values can an individual develop a strong 
superego, which holds in check the animalistic urges of the id, the force that 
rules one’s unconscious. Because women remain resistant to the father’s laws, 
women are supposedly less obedient than men to the civilizing forces of the 
superego. Speculating in this fashion, Freud concluded: 

For women the level of what is ethically normal is different from what it is 
in men. Their super-ego is never so inexorable, so impersonal, so indepen- 
dent of its emotional origins as we require it to be in men. Character traits 
which critics of every epoch have brought up against women — that they 
show less sense of justice than men, that they are less ready to submit to 
the great necessities of life, that they are more influenced in their judge- 
ments by feelings of affection or hostility — all these would be amply ac- 
counted for by the modification of their super-ego which we have already 
inferred. 9 

In other words, female moral inferiority is traceable to girls’ lack of a penis. 
Because they do not have to worry about being castrated, girls are not nearly 



Feminist Critiques of Freud 133 


as motivated as boys supposedly are to become obedient rule followers whose 
“heads” control their “hearts.” 

Feminist Critiques of Freud 

Because penis envy and related ideas paint such an unflattering portrait of 
women, many feminists were and still are angered by traditional Freudian 
theory. In the 1970s, feminists with otherwise widely different agendas — for 
example, Betty Friedan, Shulamith Firestone, and Kate Millett — made Freud 
a common target. They argued women’s social position and powerlessness 
relative to men had little to do with female biology and much to do with the 
social construction of femininity. 

Betty Friedan 

According to Betty Friedan, Freud’s ideas were shaped by his culture, which 
she described as Victorian, even though Freud wrote many of his most influen- 
tial essays about female sexuality in the 1920s and 1930s. What most disturbed 
Friedan about Freud, however, was his supposed biological determinism. As 
she interpreted it, Freud’s aphorism “Anatomy is destiny” 10 means a woman’s 
reproductive role, gender identity, and sexual preference are determined by her 
lack of a penis, and any woman who does not follow the course nature sets for 
her is in some way “abnormal.” 11 

Not only did Friedan reject Freud’s methodology, but she also rejected what 
she regarded as his fixation on sex. By encouraging women to think female dis- 
content and dissatisfaction have their roots in women’s lack of the penis per se 
rather than in the privileged socioeconomic and cultural status its possession 
confers on men, Freud led women to believe, falsely, that women are defective. 
Moreover, by suggesting to women that in lieu of possessing the penis, they can 
instead have a baby, Freud lured women into the trap of the feminine mystique. 
Thus, Friedan faulted Freud for making a specific sexual experience she termed 
“vaginalism” the be-all and end-all of women’s existence. In particular, she con- 
demned him for encouraging women to be receptive, passive, dependent, and 
ever ready for the supposed “final goal” of their sexual life: impregnation. 12 

Shulamith Firestone 

Blaming neo-Freudian therapists even more than she blamed Freud for justi- 
fying female subordination, Shulamith Firestone claimed that women’s sex- 
ual passivity is not natural but simply the social result of women’s physical, 



134 Chapter 4: Psychoanalytic Feminism 

economic, or emotional dependence on men. 13 Rather than “helping” de- 
pressed women and children adjust to the status quo, said Firestone, neo- 
Freudian therapists should encourage them to rebel against it. 14 In particular, 
neo-Freudian therapists should not use their considerable skills to “fit” rebel- 
lious women and children into the patriarchal structure known as the nuclear 
family. Rather, the therapists should challenge men’s abuse of women and 
children within the confines of “home, sweet home.” 15 

The more she reflected on the causes of womens and children’s oppression, 
the more Firestone became convinced that human beings should abolish the 
nuclear family and, with it, the incest taboo, “the root cause of the Oedipus 
complex.” 16 No longer having to resolve the Oedipus complex, children 
would not be forced to distinguish between “bad,” sexual feelings for their 
parents and “good,” loving feelings for their parents. Were children permitted 
to combine their sexual and loving feelings for their parents, said Firestone, 
the power dynamics between men and women as well as parents and children 
would be fundamentally altered. Just as importantly, no particular form of 
sexuality would be proclaimed “normal.” Gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and 
transsexuals would be regarded as just as normal as heterosexuals. 

Kate Millet 

Like Firestone, Millett directed her critique of Freudianism more against 
neo-Freudian therapists than against Freud himself. In particular, she faulted 
neo-Freudian therapists for claiming that male sexual aggression is rooted in 
the “biological . . . necessity for overcoming the resistance of the sexual ob- 
ject.” 17 She observed that in their attempt to prove this claim, neo-Freudian 
therapists sometimes went to ridiculous extremes, looking for male aggres- 
sion everywhere, including in such unlikely species as the prehistoric cichlid 
fish. Supposedly, the males of this species of fish are able to impregnate the 
females of their species only because the latter respond to their aggressive ad- 
vances with “awe.” Millett used this example to show, as Friedan might, that 
there is little sound evidence to support the theory that nature has deter- 
mined men play first fiddle simply because they have a penis. 18 

Decidedly resistant to all types of biological determinism, Millett found the 
concept of penis envy a transparent instance of male egocentrism. Instead of cel- 
ebrating woman’s power to give birth, said Millett, neo-Freudian therapists in- 
terpret it as a pathetic attempt to possess a substitute penis: “Freudian logic has 
succeeded in converting childbirth, an impressive female accomplishment . . . 
into nothing more than a hunt for a male organ.” 19 Flad Freud made the cli- 
toris, not the penis, the center of his analysis of female sexuality, mused Millett, 



Early Feminist Appropriations of Freud 135 


he might have been better able to understand, for example, the problems that 
truly ailed his eighteen-year-old “hysterical” patient, Dora. 

A bright and intelligent woman, Dora was a member of a typical Viennese 
middle-class family: father, mother, son, daughter. From Freud’s point of 
view, Dora’s family exhibited all the classic signs of “Oedipal behavior,” with 
father and daughter aligned against mother and son. To make matters even 
worse, Dora’s father had a lover, a longtime family friend, Frau K., whose 
husband, Flerr K., had had sexual designs on Dora from the time she was 
fourteen. Although Dora had a close relationship with Frau K. — indeed, the 
girl found in the woman the affectionate mother her biological mother had 
never been — Dora terminated this relationship as soon as she realized Frau 
K. was her father’s lover and Flerr K. had sexual designs on her. When she 
confronted her father about his infidelity and Flerr K.’s lechery, he denied 
everything and attributed his daughter’s “fantasies” to her being “hysterical.” 
When she was brought to Freud for treatment, Freud believed Dora’s 
account of her father’s adulterous behavior and Herr K.’s lecherous advances. 
Nevertheless, he failed to reassure Dora that the bad behavior of these two 
men was the cause of her “hysteria.” Instead, Freud told Dora her real prob- 
lems were her sexual jealousy of Frau K. and her inability to be sexually 
aroused by Flerr K.’s advances. Apparently unimpressed by Freud’s diagnosis, 
Dora terminated treatment with him after three months, announcing she 
would rather be dead than married. Freud interpreted her abrupt termina- 
tion of rreatment as an instance of transference, causing Dora to shift her 
negative feelings toward her father and Flerr K. to Freud himself. Suppos- 
edly, she sought revenge on all men by rejecting Freud. 20 

Maintaining that Freud’s treatment of Dora was unacceptable, Millett 
claimed that Dora’s so-called hysteria was a clear case of justifiable anger. A 
feminist psychotherapist would regard Dora’s reasons for not wishing to get 
married as quite rational, given the emotional wringer through which she 
had been squeezed. At the very least, a feminist psychotherapist would tell 
Dora she had every right to accuse her father of adultery and Flerr K. of a 
form of sexual harassment akin to rape. 21 Told that Freud suspected Flerr K. 
and Dora’s father were in cahoots, a feminist psychotherapist would con- 
clude Freud failed to serve the best interests of his patient, precisely because 
Freud belonged to Flerr K.’s and Dora’s father’s patriarchal club. 

Early Feminist Appropriations of Freud 

As it so happens, several early twentieth-century psychoanalysts, including 
Alfred Adler, Karen Fforney, and Clara Thompson, largely agreed with the 



136 Chapter 4: Psychoanalytic Feminism 


points made by feminist critics of Freud. Like Friedan, Firestone, and Mil- 
lett, they believed that women’s (and men’s) gender identity, gender behavior, 
and sexual orientation are not the result of biological facts. Rather, these 
facets of a human being are the product of social values. Although Alder, 
Homey, and Thompson did not refer to themselves as psychoanalytic femi- 
nists, their work is quite feminist in spirit and content. They helped reinter- 
pret Freud’s work to demonstrate that women’s lack of a penis is important 
only because patriarchal society privileges men over women. 


Alfred Adler 

According to Adler, men and women are fundamentally the same because all 
human beings are bom helpless. Our infantile experience of powerlessness is 
the source of our lifelong struggle to overcome feelings of impotency. Adler 
insisted that our biology, specifically the mere fact some of us have penises 
and others of us have vaginas, does not determine our destiny. On the con- 
trary, our so-called creative selves have the power to shape our lives in any 
direction we want. Indeed, our creative selves have the power to interpret our 
biological givens, for example, as positively or negatively as we choose. 22 
Thus, women’s lack of a penis in and of itself is no better or worse than men’s 
lack of a vagina or uterus. The value of the presence or absence of these 
organs depends on the value individuals assign to having a penis or a vagina. 

Given his views about the powers of the creative self, Adler was able to 
provide nondeterministic explanations for why so-called neurotic women 
suffer from a sense of inferiority and are plagued by “masculinity complexes.” 
Acknowledging that Western society is a patriarchal one in which women 
“are determined and maintained by privileged males for the glory of male 
domination,” 23 Adler hypothesized that as long as patriarchy exists, so-called 
neurotic women will exist. A “neurotic” woman is simply a woman thwarted 
by patriarchy in her struggle to overcome her feelings of infantile helpless- 
ness. By recognizing that all human beings, be they women or men, have cre- 
ative selves and desire to empower themselves through thought and action, 
Adler provided “neurotic” women with the rationale to heal themselves: Not 
they but patriarchal society is sick. 


Karen Homey 

Like Adler, Karen Florney emphasized the role environment plays in a per- 
son’s growth as a person. A medical school student in turn-of-the-century 
Berlin, Florney experienced firsthand how patriarchal society constricts 



Early Feminist Appropriations of Freud 137 


women’s creative development. She claimed women’s feelings of inferiority 
originated not in women’s recognition of their castration but in women’s 
realization of their social subordination. Although Horney conceded women 
are symbolically castrated in that they have been denied the power the penis 
represents, she refused to accept that ordinary women are radically defective 
beings simply because they lack penises. She instead argued that patriarchal 
culture first forces women to be feminine (passive, masochistic, narcissistic) 
and then tries to convince women they like being feminine. In this light, 
women who want what society considers truly valuable — namely, masculine 
things — will be labeled “sick,” as suffering from a “masculinity complex,” or 
as “flying from womanhood.” 24 Refusing to consider women who want to 
play a major role in society as mentally ill, Horney instead described them as 
persons struggling to achieve a balance between three pulls in their character: 
the self-effacing pull, the resigned pull, and the expansive pull. Not content 
with their powerless status in society, their behind-the-scenes role, women 
who choose to move beyond “femininity” are creating an ideal self that will 
include masculine as well as feminine traits. Far from being mentally ill, such 
women are psychologically healthy to an amazing degree. In other words, 
these women know that society, not biology, has caused them to be the way 
they are. They theorize that as soon as they learn how to view themselves as 
men’s equals, society will have little, if any power over women’s destiny. 25 

Clara Thompson 

Clara Thompson sided with Adler and Horney in portraying human develop- 
ment as a process of growth away from one’s biology and toward mastery of one’s 
environment. Working within the framework of interpersonal psychology — 
which views people’s relationships with others as crucial to their development 
and well-being — Thompson explained female passivity as the product of a set of 
asymmetrical male-female relationships in which constant deferral to male au- 
thority causes women to have weaker egos than men do. Female and male iden- 
tities do not emanate from unchanging female and male biologies, in 
Thompson’s estimation. Rather, they emerge from ever-changing social ideas 
about what it means to be male or female. Along with Adler and Horney, 
Thompson believed women’s guilt, inferiority, and self-hatred are grounded not 
in mere biological facts but in society’s interpretation of these facts. Thus, the 
transformation of the legal, political, economic, and social institutions that 
shape society is a necessary step in the transformation of women’s psychology. 26 

In reinterpreting Freud’s observations, Adler, Horney, and Thompson 
moved beyond Freud. First, they spoke of masculine bias and male dominance 



138 Chapter 4: Psychoanalytic Feminism 


and offered a political as well as psychoanalytic analysis of womens situation, 
something Freud did not do. Second, they proposed a unitary theory of human 
development that did not set men and women traveling down separate develop- 
mental tracks toward separate developmental goals. Instead, Adler, Homey, and 
Thompson insisted that all human beings — men and women — want the same 
thing, the opportunity to shape their own destiny creatively and actively. Third, 
and perhaps most important, these early feminist psychoanalysts all insisted that 
the self is an identity that develops uniquely and individually in each person, 
growing out of the interface between nature and culture. For Adler, Horney, 
and Thompson, there is not one universally healthy, normal, and natural male 
self for men and another universally healthy, normal, and natural female self for 
women. Rather, there are as many human selves as there are individual people. 27 

Later Feminist Appropriations of Freud 

Later psychoanalytic feminists such as Dorothy Dinnerstein and Nancy 
Chodorow also worked to reinterpret Freud’s texts. These theorists maintained 
that by focusing less on the Oedipal stage and more on the pre-Oedipal stage 
of psychosexual development, they could provide a better explanation of how 
patriarchal society constructs sexuality and gender. Many of society’s views 
about women’s inferiority and men’s superiority, said Dinnerstein and 
Chodorow, are traceable to women’s doing all or most of the mothering work 
in society. Were men to mother just as much as women do, boys and girls 
would grow up differendy. They would realize that neither sex is inferior or 
superior to the other, and that both sexes merit equal respect. 

Dorothy Dinnerstein: 

The Mermaid and the Minotaur 

According to Dinnerstein, our culture’s gender arrangements strongly 
influence how men and women conceive of themselves and each other, and 
the resulting portrait is not pretty. In it, women are depicted as “mermaids” 
and men as “minotaurs.” Dinnerstein wrote: “The treacherous mermaid, 
seductive and impenetrable female representative of the dark and magic un- 
derwater world from which our life comes and in which we cannot live, lures 
voyagers to their doom. The fearsome minotaur, gigantic and eternally infan- 
tile offspring of a mother’s unnatural lust, male representative of mindless, 
greedy power, insatiably devours live human flesh.” 28 

Because Dinnerstein found this portrait ugly, she sought to explain why 
we continue to paint it over and over again, albeit in different hues. The 



Later Feminist Appropriations of Freud 139 


answer to our pathological need to make monsters of ourselves is buried, 
she speculated, deep in our psychosexual development, in the pre-Oedipal 
stage. The infant’s relationship with her or his mother is profoundly symbi- 
otic because the infant is initially incapable of distinguishing between her- 
self or himself and the mother. Because the maternal body is the infant’s 
first encounter with the material or physical universe, the infant experi- 
ences the mother’s body as a symbol of an unreliable and unpredictable 
universe. The mother is the source of pleasure and pain for the infant, who 
is never certain whether the mother will meet his or her physical and psy- 
chological needs. As a result, the infant grows up feeling very ambivalent 
toward mother figures (women) and what they represent (the material/phys- 
ical universe, or nature). 

Not wanting to reexperience utter dependence on an all-powerful force, 
men seek to control both women and nature, to exert power over them. 
Fearing the power of the mother within themselves, women concomitantly 
seek to be controlled by men. Men’s need to control women and women’s 
need to be controlled by men tragically leads, said Dinnerstein, to a mis- 
shapen set of six gender arrangements, which together constitute a paradigm 
for destructive human relations in general. 

Dinnerstein pointed to men’s greater sexual possessiveness as the first 
characteristic of currently skewed gender relationships. Men hope to over- 
come their past inability to totally control their mothers by trying to to- 
tally control their wives or girlfriends. Given men’s intense desire to 
control women, when a woman is unfaithful to a man, the man feels the 
same despair he felt upon realizing his mother had a self separate from his 
own, a self whose will often conflicted with his. This refelt sense of despair, 
said Dinnerstein, explains men’s violent reactions to their wives’ or girl- 
friends’ “infidelities,” ranging from extramarital affairs with male lovers to 
pajama parties with female friends. 

Curiously, although many women accept men’s sexual possessiveness of 
women as some sort of right, women do not generally claim the same right 
for themselves. Dinnerstein explained this asymmetry as follows: Because a 
woman fears the power of the mother within herself, she is always in search of 
a man who can control her. But because a man does not represent “mother” to 
her in the way she represents “mother” to him, she needs him less than he 
needs her. No matter how deep the symbiosis she achieves with him, it will 
not equal the kind of symbiosis she had with her mother in the past or that 
she could have with another woman/mother now or in the future. Conse- 
quendy, if a man leaves a woman, she will not feel the same intensity of grief 
she felt when her original mother left her. 29 



140 Chapter 4: Psychoanalytic Feminism 

Muted female erotic impulsivity is the second mark of current gender 
arrangements, according to Dinnerstein. A muted female eroticism is one 
oriented exclusively toward male pleasure. Through sexual intercourse, the 
woman seeks to satisfy the man, and whatever pleasure she experiences is 
experienced vicariously as delight in his satisfaction. Her own sexual wants 
and needs must go unattended, for were she to insist on their fulfillment, she 
and the man would be in for a shock. They would both reexperience the rage 
they felt as infants when they first recognized their mothers as independent 
selves who had lives and interests of their own. Moreover, were she to let her 
partner totally satisfy her, the woman would feel enormous guilt for having 
abandoned her primary love object (mother and women) for a secondary 
love object (father and men). Better to deprive herself of sexual pleasure, she 
senses, than suffer the pangs of conscience. 30 

This guilt on the part of women contributes to the third feature of the 
current gender relations identified by Dinnerstein: the idea that sexual 
excitement and personal sentiment must be tied together for women but not 
for men. Because of the guilt she feels about abandoning her mother, a 
woman refuses to allow herself even vicarious pleasure in sex unless the rela- 
tionship is infused with the same type of all-encompassing love that existed 
between her and her mother. In order to feel good about a sexual liaison, a 
woman must believe the relationship underlying it is like the one she initially 
had with her mother: deep, binding, and strong. Only such a sexual liaison 
can possibly justify her rejection of her mother. To forsake total symbiosis 
with her mother for a one-night stand with a man, for example, is to settle 
for a superficial intimacy that cannot approximate the deep intimacy of the 
mother-child relationship. 

In contrast to women, men are notorious for their ability to separate sex 
from intense emotional commitment. This ability is also rooted in the 
mother-infant relationship, especially in the loss of the illusion of infant om- 
nipotence. In the male-female sexual relationship, the man feels especially 
vulnerable because a woman “can reinvoke in him the unqualified, bound- 
less, helpless passion of infancy.” 31 Depending on how much a man needs to 
be in charge of his destiny, he will be threatened by the overwhelming pow- 
ers of sexual passion. Once again, he will fear being overwhelmed by a 
woman able to shatter his ego by withdrawing herself from him. Thus, he 
will seek to remain in control of the sexual act, distancing himself from the 
woman with whom he is being intimate. 

Dinnerstein claimed the fourth hallmark of current gender arrangements is 
that a woman is viewed as an “it,” whereas a man is seen as an “I.” Because the 
child encounters a woman before the child is able to distinguish an “I” (center 



Later Feminist Appropriations of Freud 141 


of self-interested sentience and perception) from an “it” (an impersonal force 
of nature), Dinnerstein speculated that the child initially perceives its mother 
not as a person but as an object. In contrast, because the father usually plays a 
small role in an infant’s upbringing, taking on a larger part in his child’s life 
only after the child has made the I-it distinction, the child has less difficulty 
recognizing him as an “I,” not an “it.” Apparently, children perceive their 
fathers, but not their mothers, as persons with lives of their own. Dinnerstein 
also hypothesized that human beings fear the power of an “it” more than the 
power of an “I.” In her estimation, this state of affairs explains why “it-like” 
female power, in the private or public realm, is ultimately more threatening to 
both men and women than male power. Thus, not only do men feel a need to 
control women but women also feel a need to be controlled by men. 32 

The fifth characteristic of current gender arrangements is rooted in our 
general ambivalence toward the flesh, according to Dinnerstein. We hate the 
flesh because it limits our control and because we know it will ultimately die, 
yet we love it because it gives us pleasure. Our general ambivalence toward the 
body is, however, intensified in the case of women. On the one hand, 
women’s bodies are powerful because they represent the forces of life; on the 
other hand, women’s bodies are disgusting because they bleed and ooze. 
Because men’s bodies do not carry as much symbolic baggage as women’s do, 
men can imagine their own bodies to be largely free of the impurities and 
problems associated with women’s bodies. Rather unfairly, men dispel any 
remaining ambivalence they may have about the male body by displacing 
their fears of the flesh onto the female body. The denigration of the female 
body as dirty, foul, and sinful causes women to deny their bodily core of self- 
respect, which then deprives women of the ability to reject confidently the 
negative feelings projected onto their bodies. As a result, many women come 
to hate their bodies and to punish them in many ways. 33 Bulimia, anorexia, 
and overeating may at least in part be attributed to women’s “flesh” problems. 

Dinnerstein observed that the final characteristic of current gender 
arrangements is the tacit agreement between men and women that men 
should go out into the public sphere and women should stay behind within 
the private sphere. Women funnel their energies into symbiosis and personal 
relationships, eschewing enterprise for fear of putting power back into the 
hands of women, while men make enterprise their be all and end all, avoid- 
ing symbiosis and personal relationships for fear of losing control. Regret- 
tably, the terms of this bargain permit both men and women to remain 
perpetual children, said Dinnerstein. Rather than taking responsibility for 
themselves and their world, men and women continue to play the kind of 
sex and gender games they should have stopped playing generations ago. 



142 Chapter 4: Psychoanalytic Feminism 


As Dinnerstein saw it, our destructive gender arrangements are the direct 
result of women’s role in child-rearing and our subsequent tendency to 
blame women for everything wrong about ourselves, especially that we are 
limited beings destined to err, decay, and die. We blame mother/woman for 
our limitations, speculated Dinnerstein, because it is mother/woman who 
most likely presides when we skin our knees, break our toys, get the flu, and 
flunk our exams. Dinnerstein insisted we must stop blaming mother/women 
for the human condition if we want to overcome our destructive gender 
arrangements — a set of relationships symptomatic of our increasing inability 
to deal with each other and our world. Dinnerstein’s solution to the scape- 
goating of women was to propose a dual-parenting system. She believed that 
such a system would have four positive consequences. 

First, said Dinnerstein, dual parenting would enable us to stop projecting 
our ambivalence about carnality and mortality onto one parent, the female. 
Because both parents would be involved in the parenting process from the 
infant’s birth onward, we would no longer associate our bodily limitations 
with the female parent only. It would not even occur to us to blame our car- 
nality and mortality on women. Thus, we would all be forced to deal with 
the human condition as a given, rather than mother’s fault. 

Second, in Dinnerstein’s estimation, dual parenting would enable us to 
overcome our ambivalence about growing up. We remain childish because 
we approach life as if it were a drama in which women are assigned one role 
to play and men another. Women play the nurturant mother-goddess role, 
while men play the mighty world-builder role. Yet both sexes not only doubt 
whether they can perform these roles satisfactorily, but also wish to break free 
of them. With the institution of dual parenting, these roles would no longer 
be split along gender lines. As a result, women would no longer feel totally 
responsible for nurturing, and men would no longer feel totally responsible 
for making the world go round. When men as well as women engage in 
mothering and women as well as men engage in enterprise, the roles of 
mother goddess and of world builder would be divested of their destructive 
mystique. 

Third, Dinnerstein insisted that dual parenting would help us overcome our 
ambivalence toward the existence of other separate beings. In the present situa- 
tion, we do not fully acknowledge each other as autonomous agents. We tend to 
view other people as means toward an end — the end of making ourselves feel 
better about ourselves — rather than as separate beings, each of whom is an end 
unto himself or herself. With the inception of dual parenting, we would not 
require others to validate our existence. In other words, once we are free to 
choose whatever combination of nurturing and enterprising activities we prefer, 



Later Feminist Appropriations of Freud 143 


we would no longer need from each other as much confirmation and reinforce- 
ment that our actions are valuable and necessary. 

Finally, Dinnerstein believed that dual parenting would help us overcome 
our ambivalence about enterprise. All people, but especially men, tend to use 
world building as a defense against death. Indeed, the wonders of civilization 
can be read as the tragic testimony of a species that strives to achieve the 
good, the true, and the beautiful, knowing full well everyone and everything 
are doomed to disintegration. Given his traditional role as world builder, 
society has not permitted man to express reservations about the ultimate 
worth of his worldly projects. But because of her traditional role as mother 
goddess — the “wise one” who is not easily deceived by the pomp and cir- 
cumstance of civilization — society has given woman some license to articu- 
late her misgivings about civilization. Indeed, said Dinnerstein, women 
often play the role of court jesters, poking fun at the games men play; 
women’s irreverence serves to release the tension that ripples through the 
world of enterprise. As a result, things never seem bad enough for us to 
change the course of history dramatically. But, observed Dinnerstein, dual 
world building and dual child-rearing would enable all of us to see just how 
bad the world situation is. Because men and women would have an equal 
role in world building as well as child-rearing, women would no longer be 
able to play the role of court jesters. With nowhere to hide, not even in 
laughter, both sexes would be required to put aside their games to reshape a 
fundamentally misshapen world. 34 

Nancy Chodorow: 

The Reproduction of Mothering 

Less interested in sexual relationships than Dinnerstein, Nancy Chodorow 
wondered why women want to mother even when they do not have to do 
so. 35 Rejecting Freud’s idea that for women babies are substitutes for 
penises, Chodorow found the answer to her question in a reconsideration of 
the pre-Oedipal stage of human psychosexual development. She pointed to 
the different “object-relational” experiences infants have with their mothers. 
According to Chodorow, the infant boy’s pre-Oedipal relationship with his 
mother is sexually charged in a way that it is not for the infant girl. Feeling 
a sexual current between himself and his mother, the infant boy senses his 
mother’s body is not like his body. As he enters the Oedipal stage, the grow- 
ing boy senses how much of a problem his mother’s otherness is. Fie cannot 
remain attached to her (i.e., overwhelmingly in love with her) without risk- 
ing his father’s wrath. Not willing to take this risk, the son separates from 



144 Chapter 4: Psychoanalytic Feminism 

his mother. What makes this process of separation less painful for the son 
than it might otherwise be is his dawning realization that power and pres- 
tige are to be had through identification with men — in this case, the father. 
The boy’s increasing contempt for women supposedly helps him define 
himself in opposition to the female sex his mother represents. 36 

In contrast to the mother-son pre-Oedipal relationship, the mother- 
daughter pre-Oedipal relationship is characterized by what Chodorow 
termed “prolonged symbiosis” and “narcissistic over-identification.” Because 
both the daughter and the mother are female, the infant girl’s sense of gender 
and self is continuous with that of her mother. During the Oedipal stage, 
however, the mother-daughter symbiosis is weakened as the growing girl 
begins to desire what her father symbolizes: the autonomy and independence 
that characterizes a subjectivity, or an “I,” on the one hand and the ability to 
sexually satisfy a woman — in this case, her mother — on the other. Thus, as 
Chodorow interpreted it, penis envy arises for the girl both because the penis 
symbolizes male power and because it is the sexual organ that apparently sat- 
isfies her mother: “Every step of the way ... a girl develops her relationship 
to her father while looking back at her mother — to see if her mother is envi- 
ous, to make sure she is in fact separate, to see if she is really independent. 
Her turn to her father is both an attack on her mother and an expression of 
love for her.” 37 

Although most girls do finally transfer their primary love from a female to 
a male object, Chodorow suggested this transfer of love is never complete. 
Whether a girl develops into a heterosexual woman or not, she will probably 
find her strongest emotional connections with other women. Thus the pre- 
Oedipal mother-daughter relationship provides a reference point for female 
friendships and lesbian relationships: The original mother-daughter symbiosis 
is never totally severed. 38 

Chodorow theorized that the psychosexual development of boys and 
girls has several social implications. The boy’s separateness from his mother 
is the cause of his limited ability to relate deeply to others; this emotional 
deficiency, however, prepares him well for work in the public sphere, which 
values single-minded efficiency, a “survival-of-the-fittest” mentality, and 
the ability to distance oneself from others so as to assess them objectively 
and dispassionately. 39 In contrast, the girl’s connectedness to her mother is 
the cause of her ability to relate to others, to weave intimate and intricate 
human connections — the kind of relationships that hold the private sphere 
together. Unfortunately, this very ability is also what makes it difficult for a 
girl to create a place for herself in the public world. Precisely because 
women develop permeable ego boundaries, women will tend to merge 



Later Feminist Appropriations of Freud 145 


their own interests with the interests of others, making the identification 
and pursuit of any independent interests discomfiting. 

Because of her view that women’s capacity for relatedness is overdeveloped 
and men’s underdeveloped and that men’s capacity for separateness is overde- 
veloped and women’s underdeveloped, Chodorow, like Dinnerstein, hypoth- 
esized that a dual-parenting system would eliminate these asymmetries. Were 
children reared by both their mothers and their fathers, boys and girls would 
grow up equally capable of merging and separating, of valuing their relation- 
ships with others and taking pride in their autonomy. More specifically, dual- 
parented children would realize both men and women are self-interested as 
well as other-directed. 40 Finally, dual-parented children would no longer 
view the home as women’s domain and the workplace as men’s domain. On 
the contrary, they would grow up thinking that all human beings should 
spend some of their time out in the world working and the rest of it at home 
with their families and friends. 

Dinnerstein Versus Chodorow 

Common to both Chodorow and Dinnerstein is the conviction that the 
oppression of women originates in the female monopoly on mothering. 
Explanations of female subordination that focus on differences in physical 
strength, on the workings of capital, or on the laws of society miss this cru- 
cial point. Despite this agreement, differences of substance as well as style 
characterize Dinnerstein’s and Chodorow’s respective analyses. 

Dinnerstein drew a stark picture of current gender relations, accentuating 
some of the sadder moments in our psychosexual development. Because our 
experience of being mothered has been so overwhelming and even terrifying, 
Dinnerstein described human beings’ transition from infancy to adulthood as 
the slow and painful process of rejecting the mother, of devaluing women and 
all things female. On account of his sexual dissimilarity to his mother, a boy 
can make this break completely, thereby realizing his desire for independence, 
for omnipotence. On account of her sexual similarity to her mother, however, 
a girl can never totally break from her mother. A woman, precisely because 
she is a woman, will remain less than autonomous as long as the experience of 
self-definition is understood largely as the process of maternal and therefore 
female rejection. 

In contrast, Chodorow painted a portrait of mothering less preoccupied 
with the image of the omnipotent mother who must be controlled, if not by 
domination, then by rejection. As Chodorow saw it, the infant’s connection 
with his or her mother is not precipitously shattered, with all of the rage and 



146 Chapter 4: Psychoanalytic Feminism 


vindictiveness such a sharp break entails. Instead, the connection is gradually 
eroded, especially for girls. This more temperate approach suggests that for 
Chodorow, the measure of difference between males and females is how con- 
nected they are to their mothers, whereas for Dinnerstein it is how separate 
they are from their mothers. 

In the main, Chodorow’s and Dinnerstein’s differences from each other 
are more a matter of emphasis than substance. Dinnerstein focused on men’s 
and women’s inability to overcome in adulthood the sense of powerlessness 
they felt as infants, when their lives depended on the seemingly capricious 
will of their mothers. Chodorow emphasized men and women’s unconscious 
need as adults to re-create their infantile experience of symbiosis with their 
mothers. On the whole, Dinnerstein tended to present the mother-child 
relationship as basically pathological, whereas Chodorow tended to present it 
as fundamentally healthy. 

Whatever their differences, both Dinnerstein and Chodorow were, as 
noted, equally insistent that dual parenting is the key solution to the state of 
affairs caused by nearly exclusively female mothering. Mothering must 
become parenting, if women are to cease being the scapegoats of wailing 
infants and raging men. Men must become equal parents with women in 
order to free women from the sole responsibility for loving and men from the 
sole responsibility for working. Dual parenting would, in the estimation of 
both Dinnerstein and Chodorow, break down the sexual division of labor 
completely. Men would be required to spend as much time fathering as 
women spend mothering, and women would be expected to work alongside 
men in the workaday world. As a result of this new arrangement, both men 
and women would develop into autonomous, nurturant people who are 
equally comfortable in both the private and the public domains. 

Critiques of Dinnerstein and Chodorow 

Feminists critics challenged Dinnerstein and Chodorow for three reasons. 
First, they faulted these two theorists for claiming that the root causes of 
women’s oppression are psychological rather than social. 41 According to 
Dinnerstein and Chodorow, our legal, political, economic, and cultural sys- 
tems would be dramatically different if women did not want or need to 
mother. Women are not mothers because law, politics, economics, or cul- 
ture has forced them to be mothers; rather, women are mothers because 
they want or need to be mothers. Feminist critics of Dinnerstein and 
Chodorow countered that woman’s want or need to mother is caused not by 
psychological states of mind but by material conditions — that is, by specific 



Later Feminist Appropriations of Freud 147 


social conditions such as men’s typically higher pay in the public labor 
force. In a society that gives far greater economic rewards to men than to 
women, it makes sense for women to convince themselves they like staying 
at home with their children. Women would stop wanting and needing to 
mother if social conditions were such that women were paid as much as or 
more than men in the public labor force, for example. 

Second, feminist critics objected to what they perceived as both Dinner- 
stein’s and Chodorow’s failure to appreciate the diverse forms family struc- 
ture takes. In particular, they faulted Dinnerstein and Chodorow for 
explaining the pre-Oedipal and Oedipal stages solely in terms of the struc- 
tures of the two-parent, heterosexual family and for failing to explain it in 
terms of differently-structured families. There are, after all, many sorts of 
family structures, ranging from single-parent structures to blended-family 
and extended-family structures. Moreover, sometimes a child’s parents are 
both female, as when a lesbian couple rears the child; or sometimes a child’s 
parents are both male, as when a gay couple rears him or her. If the Oedipus 
complex is indeed universal, richer accounts of how it plays out in different 
family structures must be provided. By focusing on the two-parent, hetero- 
sexual family structure, Dinnerstein and Chodorow missed an opportunity 
to formulate a fully feminist psychoanalytic theory. 

Third, feminist critics objected to Dinnerstein’s and Chodorow’s preferred 
solution for women’s oppression, the creation and maintenance of a dual- 
parenting system. Jean Bethke Elshtain, for example, singled out Dinnerstein 
for especially strong words. Dinnerstein, said Elshtain, believed women have 
less of a need to control things and people than men have. As a result of their 
special symbiotic relationships to their mothers, girls supposedly grow up to 
be nurturant, affectionate, and caring persons who are “less avid than men as 
hunters and killers, as penetrators of Mother Nature’s secrets, plunderers of 
her treasure, outwitters of her constraints.” 42 If this observation indeed 
applies to how women’s psychology is shaped, asked Elshtain, what will hap- 
pen to women’s positive qualities when women spend as much time in the 
public realm as men currently do? Absolutely nothing, responded Dinner- 
stein. Women will remain caring, compassionate, and considerate, “even as 
they gain public roles, authority, power.” 43 Not satisfied by Dinnerstein’s 
response, Elshtain asked why we should assume that men are capable of 
developing good feminine qualities in the private realm, but not also assume 
that women are capable of developing bad masculine qualities in the public 
realm? If men can become more nurturant by taking care of their babies, 
then it seems women can become more aggressive by doing battle in the 
nation’s boardrooms, courtrooms, and hospitals. In sum, observed Elshtain, 



148 Chapter 4: Psychoanalytic Feminism 


Dinnerstein failed to ask herself what will be lost as well as gained for men 
and women in a dual-parenting/ dual -working system. 

Whereas Elshtain singled out Dinnerstein for special criticism, another 
critic, Alice Rossi, targeted Chodorow. Rossi claimed that Chodorow failed 
to take seriously the possibility that, in the end, allowing men to care for 
infants may prove disastrous. 44 She claimed women’s biology as well as psy- 
chology equips women to perceive their infants’ needs so as to better serve 
the children. Men’s biology and psychology does not. Thus, Rossi speculated 
that the traditional caricature of the bumbling father pinning the diaper on 
his baby may have some basis in biosocial fact. 45 

Rossi also faulted Chodorow for thinking that girls reared in a dual-parent 
family will have no more difficulty separating from their mothers than boys 
will. Again appealing to women’s biology and psychology, Rossi emphasized 
that the girl’s female body will always cause her to identify with her mother in 
a way that the boy, with his male body, cannot. Even if men and women 
mothered, their bodily differences would still exist. It is, for example, 
women’s breasts, not men’s, that swell with milk. Still, conceded Rossi, 
entrusting babies to men — giving dual parenting a try — is preferable to par- 
ents’ handing their babies over to institutionalized childcare, where the bio- 
logical ties currently holding human beings together are further weakened. 46 

Another feminist critic, Janice Raymond, offered a critique of dual par- 
enting that applied equally well to Dinnerstein and Chodorow. Raymond 
observed that dual parenting seems like a reasonable way to transform dis- 
torted gender relations. After all, if Dinnerstein is right that “male absence 
from child rearing” is leading the world to nuclear war and ecological chaos, 
then by all means let fathers spend as much time in the nursery as mothers 
do. However, warned Raymond, to insist dual parenting is the solution to the 
human malaise is to elevate men again to the status of “saviors.” Men’s rapid 
insertion into the nursery, unaccompanied by women’s rapid promotion in 
the work world, threatens to give men even more power than they now 
have — personal and psychic power within the family as well as political and 
economic power outside the family. Additionally, to present dual parenting 
as the solution to all our gender woes is again to neglect “gyn-affection,” or 
woman-to-woman attraction and interaction. 47 Specifically, dual parenting, 
as presented by Dinnerstein and Chodorow, does not in any way compare 
and contrast lesbian households in which one women stays at home and the 
other goes to work with lesbian households in which neither woman is the 
primary parent or primary worker. 

As Raymond saw it, that women mainly mother is not the problem. 
Rather, the real problem is that women mother when, where, and how men 



Later Feminist Appropriations of Freud 149 


want them to. Girls are taught to direct their love away from women and to- 
ward men. Girls see their mothers loving their fathers in a special way — so 
special that girls surmise men must be worthy of a love that women them- 
selves do not deserve. Raymond speculated that were girls to see their moth- 
ers loving other women in an equally special way, girls would grow up with 
more positive feelings about themselves and other women. Despite their mu- 
tual claim that female bonds are stronger and deeper than male bonds, 
observed Raymond, neither Dinnerstein nor Chodorow envisioned powerful 
and strong women joining together in communities of care — communities 
supportive enough to give women as well as children the kind of love they 
would not otherwise find. 48 Women do not need men to help them mother. 

Adding force to Raymond’s critique of Dinnerstein and Chodorow were 
the words of Adrienne Rich. Rich observed that both Dinnerstein and 
Chodorow accepted without question the assumption that men are the 
appropriate object of women’s sexual love and emotional energy. Specifically, 
she commented that both Dinnerstein and Chodorow are “stuck . . . trying 
to reform a man-made institution — compulsory heterosexuality — as if, 
despite profound emotional impulses and complementarities drawing 
women toward women, there is a mystical/biological heterosexual inclina- 
tion, a ‘preference’ or ‘choice’ that draws women toward men.” 49 Rich found 
it particularly puzzling that neither Dinnerstein nor Chodorow, both of 
whom focused on the pre-Oedipal stage, where mother love reigns supreme, 
thought to reject the institution of compulsory heterosexuality. Lesbianism 
rather than heterosexuality would seem to be “normal” for women. Why on 
earth, then, do girls decide to trade the fulfilling intensity of pre-Oedipal 
mother love for Oedipal father love? That seems the appropriate question for 
feminists to ask. 

Juliet Mitchell: 

Psychoanalysis and Feminism 

Although Juliet Mitchell did not share Dinnerstein’s and Chodo row’s interest 
in dual parenting, she, too, sought to use the feminist ideas buried in Freud’s 
views on the unconscious. 50 As Mitchell understood Freud’s theory, it is not 
some simpleminded enunciation of the slogan “Biology is destiny.” On the 
contrary, his theory demonstrates how social beings emerge from merely bio- 
logical ones. Psychosexual development is a process of the “social interpreta- 
tion” of biology, not the inexorable manifestation of biological destiny. 51 
Although Freud studied psychosexual development among a specific group 
of people (the petite bourgeoisie of nineteenth-century Vienna), said 



150 Chapter 4: Psychoanalytic Feminism 

Mitchell, his analysis is applicable to psychosexual development among any 
group of people. However, continued Mitchell, it is important to separate 
the particular emphases of Freud’s analysis, its incidental features, from its 
general parameters, its essence. There are, after all, certain things about nine- 
teenth-century Viennese, petit bourgeois psychosexual development that are 
unique to it — that do not apply, for example, to twenty-first-century Ameri- 
can, working-class psychosexual development, or to twenty-first-century 
Chinese, upper-class psychosexual development. Still, contemporary Ameri- 
can and Chinese biological families, like the Viennese biological family, seem 
to play out the family drama Freud names the Oedipal situation. 52 

When Mitchell agreed with Freud that the Oedipal situation is universal, 
she meant that without some sort of prohibition on incest, human society is 
an impossibility. According to anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss, on whose 
work Mitchell relied, if sexual relations are permitted within the biological 
family, there will be no impetus for the biological family to form reproductive 
alliances between itself and other biological families to create the expanded 
network we call “society” 53 and to add to the genetic diversity of humankind. 

As Levi-Strauss explained, the incest taboo is the impetus that, by forbidding 
sexual relations within the biological family, forces people to form other, larger, 
social organizations. Of course, a mere ban on sexual intercourse within biolog- 
ical families is not enough. There must also be some way to facilitate sexual 
intercourse between biological families. Levi-Strauss claimed this facilitation 
takes the form of an exchange system between biological families — specifically, 
the exchange of women from one group of men to another. 54 Because a woman 
is forbidden by the incest taboo from marrying her brother or father, the men in 
her biological family will push her to marry a man they select outside of the bi- 
ological family. According to Levi-Strauss, this male-controlled exchange of 
women constitutes humans’ “decisive break” with the beasts. Moreover, added 
Mitchell, men’s exchange of women rather than vice versa accounts for the pa- 
triarchal character of human society. 55 

Feminist Critiques of Mitchell 

Mitchell’s feminist critics found much of her analysis useful, but they remain 
unconvinced by it. They asked Mitchell why women rather than men are 
exchanged and why th e father rather than the mother has power over the fam- 
ily. Mitchell sought the answers to these questions in Freud’s Totem and Taboo, 
in which he described the primal murder of an original mythical father. The 
totem is the symbol of the father, and associated with it are two taboos, one 
against destruction of the totem and one against incest. In the myth, a group of 



Later Feminist Appropriations of Freud 151 


brothers bands together to kill the feared and envied father — feared because of 
his power, envied because of his harem of women. After their act of patricide, 
the brothers, feeling very guilty about what they have done and not knowing 
quite what to substitute for the law of the father, eventually reestablish the 
father’s two taboos. Freud commented that whereas the brothers’ reinscription 
of the totem taboo is “founded wholly on emotional motives,” their reinscrip- 
tion of the incest taboo is founded on a practical as well as an emotional basis. 

Sexual desires do not unite men but divide them. Though the brothers 
had banded together in order to overcome their father, they were all one 
another’s rivals in regard to the women. Each of them would have 
wished, like his father, to have all women to himself. The new organiza- 
tion would have collapsed in a struggle of all against all, for none of 
them was of such overmastering strength as to be able to take on his 
father’s part with success. Thus the brothers had no alternative, if they 
were to live together, but — not, perhaps, until they had passed through 
many dangerous crises — to institute the law against incest, by which 
they all alike renounced the women whom they desired and who had 
been their chief motive for dispatching their father. 56 

In sum, the brothers must refrain from incest; only then can patriarchy, in 
which they have a vested interest, thrive. 

Although Mitchell’s feminist critics dismissed the myth of the primal 
crime as a mere myth, Mitchell countered that the myth is an extraordinarily 
powerful one that speaks loudly to the collective human unconscious. The 
figure of the father stands for the desire of human beings to be transcendent, 
to assert their will, to be somehow in control of their lives. The father (and 
here Mitchell was borrowing from Jacques Lacan, discussed below) is “he 
who is ultimately capable of saying ‘I am who I am.’” 57 The father represents 
success in the so-called Symbolic order. He is disentangled from confusions 
and struggles. He is clear-thinking, farseeing, and powerful. Because he can 
say, “I am who I am,” he can name things for what he wants them to be. Yet, 
however seductive the image of the transcendent father and the omnipotent 
patriarch may be, the image is also the source of women’s oppression, con- 
ceded Mitchell. To the degree that the successful resolution of the Oedipus 
complex leads to patriarchy as well as civilization, continued Mitchell, it 
needs to be reinterpreted. There must be some way to explain psychosexual 
development that does not purchase civilization at women’s expense. 58 

Responding in part to Mitchell’s challenge, Sherry Ortner, a noted femi- 
nist anthropologist and theorist, made the following observation: “The 



152 Chapter 4: Psychoanalytic Feminism 


Oedipus complex is part of a theory of the development of the person. It is 
powerful, and significantly, an eminently dialectical theory: the person 
evolves through a process of struggle with and ultimate supersession ... of 
symbolic figures of love, desire, and authority. As a general structure (with- 
out gender valences attached to the particular figures), there seems no need 
to dispose of (and . . . probably no possibility of disposing of) this 
process.” 59 Ortner theorized that because gender valences are historical accre- 
tions, they can be changed, and with their change, the Oedipal process can 
be freed from its current patriarchal agenda. 60 In other words, according to 
Ortner, there is no law that “maleness” and “femaleness” must be understood 
in only one way, or that “maleness” must be privileged over “femaleness.” 

In developing her argument, Ortner insisted that labeling authority, 
autonomy, and universalism as “male” and love, dependence, and particu- 
larism as “female” is not essential to the Oedipus complex. Gender va- 
lences are simply the consequences of a child’s experiences with men and 
women. A society changes children’s ideas about “maleness” and “female- 
ness” by changing children’s experiences with men and women. Does this 
mean, then, that the implementation of Dinnerstein’s and Chodorow’s 
system of dual parenting would, after all, be enough to effect a different 
telling of the Oedipal tale? Or must society undergo a more radical social 
transformation than this one to eliminate the gender valences that favor 
one sex over the other? Must we, for example, enter Marge Piercy’s Mat- 
tapoisett, a fictional world in which children are gestated ex utero and 
reared by three co-mothers (two men and one woman, or two women and 
one man)? 61 The possibilities for social transformation in general and for 
family structure in particular would seem to be many, each one requiring 
a different telling of the Oedipal tale. 

Psychoanalytic Feminism: 

General Reflections 

With greater or lesser success, Chodorow, Dinnerstein, and Mitchell chal- 
lenged a strict Freudian account of psychosocial development. They tried to 
provide explanations for psychosexual development that would help rather 
then hinder women’s liberation. Still, this trio of later psychoanalytic femi- 
nists did not go far enough. They did not emphasize, as some other later psy- 
choanalytic feminists would, that to understand why we construct 
men/maleness/masculinity and women/femaleness/femininity the way we 
do, we may not simply take as gospel a general theory of the psyche. Com- 
mented Chris Weedon: 



Psychoanalytic Feminism: General Reflections 153 


If we assume that subjectivity is discursively produced in social institu- 
tions and processes, there is no pre-given reason why we should privilege 
sexual relations above other forms of social relations as constitutive of 
identity. There may, of course, be historically specific reasons for doing 
this in a particular analysis, but they will not be universal. Furthermore, 
if we are concerned specifically with the question of sexual identity, then 
psychoanalysis itself must be looked at as one discourse among many 
which has been influential in constituting inherently patriarchal norms 
of sexuality. 62 

Weedon’s point is this: If we think, for example, that we can change cur- 
rent psychosocial identity by instituting a practice such as dual parenting, 
then we can also change current psychosexual identity, albeit differently, by 
instituting an alternative practice such as single parenting. As Weedon stated 
it, “discourse constitutes rather than reflects meaning.” 63 Everyday practice 
precedes the formulation of general theory. 

Observations such as Weedon’s partly explain why, in recent years, a new 
generation of psychoanalytic feminists, including Luce Irigaray and Julia 
Kristeva, have found French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s reinterpretation 
of Freud so useful. For Lacan, anatomy is not destiny; rather, language is des- 
tiny. Therefore, to the degree that language can be changed, destiny can be 
changed. 

Jacques Lacan ’s Thought 

Building upon structural anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss’s contention that 
every society is regulated by a series of interrelated signs, roles, and rituals, 
Jacques Lacan termed this series the “Symbolic order.” 64 For a child to func- 
tion adequately within society, he or she must be incorporated into the Sym- 
bolic order by undergoing three stages of psychosexual development. 65 In the 
first, or pre-Oedipal, phase — termed the “Imaginary” by Lacan — an infant is 
completely unaware of her or his own ego boundaries. In fact, the infant has 
no sense of where the mother’s body ends and her or his own body begins. As 
far as the infant is concerned, he or she and the mother are one. Moreover, 
during this stage of development, the infant is neither feminine nor masculine 
but possibly either because the infant has yet to acquire language. 

In the second, or mirror, phase (also part of the Imaginary), the infant 
thinks the image of herself or himself, as reflected through the “mirror” of 
the mother’s gaze, is her or his real self. According to Lacan, this is a nor- 
mal stage in self-development. Before the infant can see itself as a self the 



154 Chapter 4: Psychoanalytic Feminism 

infant must see itself as seen by the mother — that is, as another. 66 Lacan 
claimed that the process of infantile self-discovery serves as a paradigm for 
all subsequent relations; the self always discovers more about itself through 
the eyes of the other. 

The third, or Oedipal, phase, in Lacan’s scheme of things, includes a 
period of growing estrangement between the mother and the maturing 
child. Unlike the infant, the child does not view herself or himself as a 
unity; rather, the child regards the mother as the other — someone to 
whom the child must communicate his or her wishes and, therefore, 
someone who, due to the limitations of language, can never truly fulfill 
those wishes. During the Oedipal phase proper, the already weakened 
mother-child relationship is further eroded by the intervention of the fa- 
ther. 67 Fearing symbolic castration, the child separates from the mother in 
return for a medium (language) through which the child can maintain 
some connection with the mother — the original, never-to-be-had-again 
source of total gratification. 68 

Like Freud, Lacan maintained that boys experience the splitting from the 
mother differently than do girls. In the Oedipal phase, the boy rejects identi- 
fication with his mother, eschewing the undifferentiated and silent state of 
the womb, and bonds with his anatomically similar father, who represents 
the Symbolic order, the word. Through identification with his father, the boy 
not only enters into subjecthood and individuality, but also internalizes the 
dominant order, the rules of society. In contrast, because of her anatomy, the 
girl cannot wholly identify with her father in the psychosexual drama. Nor 
can she totally dis-identify with her mother. As a result, the girl cannot fully 
accept and internalize the Symbolic order. 

From this situation, we can draw one of two conclusions. On the one 
hand, we can conclude that women are virtually excluded from the Symbolic 
order. On the other hand, we can conclude that women are repressed within 
the Symbolic order, forced into it unwillingly. A man with a predilection for 
contradictions, Lacan seemed to draw both of these conclusions. He thought 
that because women cannot totally internalize the “law of the father,” this 
law must be imposed on them from the outside. Women are given the same 
words men are given: masculine words. These words cannot express what 
women feel, however; masculine words can express only what men think 
women feel. Lacking feminine words, women must either babble outside the 
Symbolic order or remain silent within it. 

Thus far, it seems Lacan was not any more able than Freud was to find a 
comfortable place for women within his framework. Because women cannot 
completely resolve the Oedipal complex, they remain strangers in the Symbolic 



Psychoanalytic Feminism: General Reflections 155 


order, largely unknown because of their phallic wordlessness. Lacan speculated 
that were society to try to do the impossible — to know women — society would 
have to begin its inquiry at the pre-Oedipal level of feminine sexual pleasure 
( jouissance ). But like women, jouissance cannot be known, because it can be 
neither thought nor spoken in the phallic language of the fathers. It leads a 
repressed existence at the margins of the Symbolic order, seeking a nonphallic 
language capable of thinking and speaking it. Wer t jouissance to find the words 
to express itself, it would burst the Symbolic order and the orders major prop, 
patriarchy. 

Feminist Appropriations of Lacan’s Thought 

Luce Irigaray. Although French psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray found much 
of value in Lacanian (and, for that matter, Freudian) thought, her overall aim 
was to liberate what she termed “feminine” philosophical thought from what 
she termed “masculine” philosophical thought. We will recall that, in Lacan, 
the Imaginary is the pre-linguistic, pre-Oedipal domain in which the child 
initially mistakes herself or himself for her or his own mirror image. When 
the child realizes that the mirror image is distinct from his or her own real 
self, the child enters the Symbolic order. In this realm, the child is able to 
assert herself or himself as an “I” in language, a distinct subjectivity, separate 
from other subjectivities. Like Lacan, Irigaray drew contrasts between the 
Imaginary and the Symbolic order, but unlike Lacan, Irigaray claimed there 
is within the Imaginary a male/masculine imaginary and a female/feminine 
imaginary. 69 In other words, for Irigaray, the psyche is never bisexual, but 
always either male/masculine or female/feminine. 

For Lacan, the Imaginary is a prison within which the infant is the captive 
of illusory images. After successfully completing the Oedipal phase, boys are 
liberated from the Imaginary and enter the Symbolic order, the realm of lan- 
guage and selfhood. Because they never completely resolve the Oedipal 
phase, however, girls either remain behind in the Imaginary or they enter the 
Symbolic order mute. In opposition to Lacan, Irigaray refused to bemoan 
this state of affairs. Instead, she viewed women’s total existence in the Imagi- 
nary or wordlessness in the Symbolic order as two situations full of untapped 
possibilities for both women and society. 

Irigaray noted that, at present, anything we know about the Imaginary 
and women, including women’s sexual desire, we know from a male point of 
view. In other words, the only kind of woman we know is the “masculine 
feminine,” the phallic feminine, woman as man sees her. But, said Irigaray, 
there is another kind of woman to know, the “feminine feminine,” woman as 



156 Chapter 4: Psychoanalytic Feminism 


women see her. 70 This woman must not be defined, however, through any 
statement definitively asserting what the true “feminine” is. Defining 
“woman” in any one way will recreate the phallic feminine: “To claim that 
the feminine can be expressed in the form of a concept is to allow oneself to 
be caught up again in a system of ‘masculine’ representations, in which 
women are trapped in a system or meaning which serves the auto-affection 
of the (masculine) subject.” 71 What obstructs the progression of women’s 
thought out of the Imaginary is the concept of sameness, the thought prod- 
uct of masculine narcissism and singularity. 

Irigaray used the word speculum (a concave mirroring medical instru- 
ment used in vaginal examinations) to capture the nature and function of 
the idea of sameness in Western philosophy and psychoanalysis. “Specular- 
ization,” commented Toril Moi, “suggests not only the mirror-image that 
comes from the visual penetration of the speculum inside the vagina,” but 
also “the necessity of postulating a subject that is capable of reflecting on its 
own being.” 72 Because of narcissistic philosophical “specularization” — 
which is epitomized in the medieval description of God as thought thinking 
thought — masculine discourse has never been able to understand woman, 
or the feminine, as anything other than a reflection of man, or the mascu- 
line. Therefore, it is impossible to think the “feminine feminine” within the 
structures of patriarchal thought. When men look at women, they see not 
women but reflections of the image and likeness of men. 

In her study of Western philosophy and psychoanalysis, Irigaray found 
sameness everywhere. Her analysis of sameness in Freud’s theory was particu- 
larly important because she used it to criticize his theory of female sexuality. 
Freud saw the little girl as a deficiency or negativity, as a “little man” without 
a penis. He suppressed the notion of difference, characterizing the feminine 
as a lack. Woman is a reflection of man, the same as a man except in her sex- 
uality. Female sexuality, because it does not mirror male sexuality, is an ab- 
sence, or lack, of the male’s sexuality. Where woman does not reflect man, 
she does not exist and, stressed Irigaray, will never exist until the Oedipus 
complex is exploded. 73 

Irigaray claimed that if women want to experience themselves as some- 
thing other than “waste” or “excess” in the little structured margins of man’s 
world, they should take three steps of action. 74 First, women should create a 
female language, eschewing gender-neutral language as forcefully as they 
eschew male language. Not only is the search for “neutrality” pointless (be- 
cause no one is really neutral about anything), claimed Irigaray, but it is also 
morally misguided. Trying to hide the identity of the speaker from the 
reader/listener is cowardly. Stressing that women will not find liberation in 



Psychoanalytic Feminism: General Reflections 157 


objectivity, Irigaray noted that “neither / nor you, nor we appears in the lan- 
guage of science .” 75 Science forbids the “subjective,” often because it wishes 
to mask the identities of its agents. Distressed by the unwillingness of sci- 
ence — and, for that matter, traditional Western philosophy and psycho- 
analysis — to take responsibility for its own words and deeds, Irigaray urged 
women to find the courage to speak in the active voice, avoiding at all costs 
the false security and ultimate inauthenticity of the passive voice. 

Second, women should create a female sexuality. Irigaray contrasted the 
singularity that the male sexual organ implies with the multiplicity the 
female sexual organs imply. In particular, she localized the feminine voice in 
the labia, “two lips” that reveal woman to be neither one nor two. Woman is 
not two, because the labia belong to a single woman’s body, “which keeps 
woman in touch with herself, but without any possibility of distinguishing 
what is touching from what is touched .” 76 However, woman is not one, 
either, because the labia represent a woman’s multiple and diffuse (nonphal- 
lic) sexuality: “So woman does not have a sex organ? She has at least two of 
them, but they are not identifiable as ones. Indeed, she has many more. Her 
sexuality is always at least double, goes even further; it is plural .” 77 

Irigaray did not simply contrast the plural, circular, and aimless 
vaginal/clitoral libidinal economy of women with the singular, linear, and 
teleological phallic libidinal economy of men. She also argued that the 
expression of these libidinal economies is not restricted to sexuality but in- 
stead extends to all forms of human expression, including social structures. 
Just as the penetration of the penis prevents the lips from touching, so the 
phallic unity of the Symbolic order represses the multiplicity of female sexu- 
ality. Thus, patriarchy is the social manifestation of masculine libidinal econ- 
omy and will remain the order of the day until the repressed “feminine 
feminine” is set free. Women can unshackle this potentiality, however, 
through lesbian and autoerotic practice. As women explore the multifaceted 
terrain of the female body, they can learn to think thoughts, speak words, 
and do deeds powerful enough to displace the phallus. 

Third, in their efforts to be themselves, women should mime the mimes 
men have imposed on women. Women should take men’s images of women 
and reflect them back to men in magnified proportions. Through miming, 
women can “ undo the effects of phallocentric discourse simply by overdoing 
them .” 78 For example, if men view women as sex objects, fetishizing women’s 
breasts in particular, then women should pump up their breasts as big as pos- 
sible and walk into church on Sunday, their breasts fully exposed in all their 
naked glory, as if to say, “Here, boys; we know what is on your minds. So 
look. See if we care.” To be sure, conceded Irigaray, miming is not without its 



158 Chapter 4: Psychoanalytic Feminism 

perils. The distinction between miming the patriarchal definition of woman 
in order to subvert it and merely fulfilling this definition is not clear. In their 
attempts to “overdo” the definition of woman, women may inadvertently be 
drawn back into it. Nevertheless, despite this risk, women should take every 
opportunity to raise a ruckus in the Symbolic order. 

From the preceding discussion, there is clearly a tension between Irigaray’s 
conviction that we must finally end the process of labeling and categorizing 
on the one hand, and her competing conviction that we cannot help but 
engage in this process on the other hand. 79 Because Irigaray dared to express 
both of these convictions, sometimes in the same breath, her critics described 
her as self-contradictory. Rather than feeling embarrassed by the ambiguities 
and ambivalence in her writing, however, Irigaray took increasing pleasure in 
them. For Irigaray, self-contradiction is a form of rebellion against the logical 
consistency required by phallocentrism. “ ‘She’ is indefinitely other in herself. 
This is doubtless why she is said to be whimsical, incomprehensible, agi- 
tated, capricious . . . not to mention her language, in which ‘she’ sets off in 
all directions leaving ‘him’ unable to discern the coherence of any meaning. 
Hers are contradictory words, somewhat mad from the standpoint of reason, 
inaudible for whoever listens to them with ready-made grids, with a fully 
elaborated code in hand.” 80 Refusing to be pinned down even by her own 
theory, Irigaray vowed to liberate her life from the phallocentric concepts 
that would squeeze its multiple meanings — its exciting differences — into 
boring sameness. 

Julia Kristeva. Like Irigaray, psychoanalytic feminist Julia Kristeva relied on 
Lacan’s work. She largely accepted Lacan’s identification of the pre-Oedipal 
stage with the Imaginary (see above). She also largely accepted his identification 
of the Oedipal and post-Oedipal stages with the Symbolic order. However, Kris- 
teva added to Lacan’s account a further complexity. She claimed that a certain 
modality of language, termed by her the “semiotic,” is the exclusive modality of 
language in the pre-Oedipal period, whereas another modality of language, 
termed by her the “symbolic,” is the dominant, although not exclusive modality 
of language in the Oedipal and post-Oedipal stages. Furthermore, she associ- 
ated the semiotic with maternal/poetic language and the symbolic with pater- 
nal/logical language. As Kristeva saw it, when the child enters the Symbolic 
order as described by Lacan, the child brings with himself or herself some of the 
language of the Imaginary. However, most of the language of the Imaginary is 
left behind, because it is fundamentally at odds with the Symbolic order. Thus, 
for Kristeva, the semiotic exists both inside and outside the Symbolic order, 
whereas for Lacan, it presumably exists only outside the Symbolic order. 81 



Psychoanalytic Feminism: General Reflections 159 


Further explaining the semiotic-symbolic distinction, Kristeva claimed 
that the symbolic modality of language is that aspect of meaning-making 
that permits us to make rational arguments; it produces linear, rational, ob- 
jective, and grammatical writing. In contrast to the symbolic modality of 
language, the semiotic modality of language is that aspect of meaning-mak- 
ing that permits us to express feelings. It is, as Kelly Oliver has noted, “the 
drives as they make their way into signification.” 82 The semiotic produces 
circular, emotional, subjective, and rule-breaking writing. Kristeva believed 
that a liberated person is someone able to play not only in the space between 
the pre-Oedipal Imaginary and the post-Oedipal Symbolic order but also in 
the space between the semiotic and symbolic aspects of meaning-making in- 
side the Symbolic order. 83 In other words, she claimed that the liberated per- 
son can move freely between the “feminine” and the “masculine,” chaos and 
order, revolution and the status quo. 

Unlike Irigaray, Kristeva resisted identification of the “feminine” with bio- 
logical women and the “masculine” with biological men. She maintained that 
when the child enters the Symbolic order, he or she may identify with either 
the mother or the father. Depending on the choice the child makes, the child 
will be more or less “feminine” or “masculine.” Thus, men can exist and write 
in a “feminine” mode, and women can exist and write in a “masculine” mode. 
Perhaps most interesting and controversial is Kristeva’s claim that the “femi- 
nine” writings of men have more revolutionary potential than those of women. 
Culture is more upset when a man speaks like a woman than when a woman 
speaks like a man, said Kristeva. As Oliver put it, Kristeva thought that 
“whereas in males an identification with the maternal semiotic is revolutionary 
because it breaks with traditional conceptions of sexual difference, for females 
an identification with the maternal does not break traditional conceptions of 
sexual difference.” 84 

Kristeva’s main emphasis was on difference in general rather than sexual dif- 
ference in particular. Rejecting traditional accounts of two binary sexes, of two 
opposed gender identities, Kristeva admitted that there are, nonetheless, male 
and female sexual differences. Like Dinnerstein and Chodorow, Kristeva located 
the beginnings of sexual difference in the child’s relation to the mother; but in 
Kristeva’s version of this relationship, a child’s sexual identity is specifically 
formed through a struggle to separate from the mother’s body. The male does 
this not by rejecting his mother’s body but by “abjecting” it, that is, reconceiv- 
ing it as an object that represents everything that is disgusting about being a 
human being (excrement, blood, mucous). 85 In contrast, the more the female 
identifies with her mother’s body, the more trouble she has rejecting or abject- 
ing it. To the degree that the rejected or abjected maternal body is associated 



160 Chapter 4: Psychoanalytic Feminism 

with women per se, women are grouped with society’s “misfits” — the Jews, 
Gypsies, homosexuals, deformed, diseased — an identification that would, con- 
trary to what Kristeva has said elsewhere, motivate women, far more than men, 
to be revolutionaries. 

Just because Kristeva conceded that men and women have different sexual 
identities does not mean she believed these identities are manifested in the 
same way by each “female” or “male.” For example, Kristeva maintained that 
the concept “woman” makes no sense at the ontological level but only at the 
political level: 

The belief that “one is a woman” is almost as absurd and obscurantist as 
the belief that “one is a man.” I say “almost” because there are still many 
goals which women can achieve: freedom of abortion and contraception, 
daycare centers for children, equality on the job, etc. Therefore, we must 
use “we are women” as an advertisement or slogan for our demands. On a 
deeper level, however, a woman cannot “be”; it is something which does 
not even belong in the order of being. 86 

Acknowledging that past feminists successfully invoked the term woman to 
improve the lot of many women, Kristeva nonetheless stressed that todays fem- 
inists should invoke the term more judiciously lest the “politics of liberation” 
become the “politics of exclusion and counterpower.” 87 Oliver explained: “Fem- 
inists in the United States are struggling with this very issue. The feminist move- 
ment has had to realize that it is a white middle class movement that has worked 
to exclude women whose interests and needs are somehow different. Paradoxi- 
cally as soon as feminism defines ‘woman’ it excludes all sorts of women.” 88 
Thus, Kristeva ultimately endorsed only the aspects of the feminist movement 
that break down or render ambiguous identity, especially sexual identity. 

Conclusion 

Like liberal, radical, and Marxist/socialist feminists, psychoanalytic feminists 
have not provided a totally satisfying explanation for female subordination. 
Moreover, as critic Dorothy Leland observed, psychoanalytic feminists have 
not offered women any truly desirable ways to achieve a fuller human life. 
Dual parenting is not a panacea for all women’s woes, and in Leland’s estima- 
tion, neither are Mitchell’s, Irigaray’s, and Kristeva’s attempts to resolve the 
Oedipal tale. Indeed, said Leland, Kristeva’s resolution of the Oedipal tale is 
particularly disturbing because it offers women only three “options” — none 
entirely good — to avoid psychosis. 89 



Conclusion 161 


The first option, which Kristeva considered undesirable for women, is total 
father-identification. According to Kristeva, Electra, who has her mother, 
Clytemnestra, killed in order to “avenge her father,” is the perfect example of a 
totally father-identified woman. 90 Clytemnestra must be punished, indeed 
eliminated, because she has dared to take a lover, thereby exposing to the world 
her jouissance (instinctual pleasure), a jouissance that the patriarchal order for- 
bids. By having her mother killed, Electra expresses her hate not only of her 
mother’s jouissance but also of her own jouissance. Electra’s expression of 
mother-hate/self-hate “perpetuates the patriarchal social/symbolic order,” said 
Leland. 91 

The second option for women, which Kristeva also considered undesirable, 
is total mother-identification. Because she largely accepted Lacan’s view that to 
become civilized, the child must repress both its jouissance and its symbiotic 
relation to the mother, Kristeva viewed total mother-identification as con- 
demning women to “forever remain in a sulk in the face of history, politics, 
and social affairs.” 92 In other words, the price of total mother-identification is 
not being permitted to be an adult. 

The third option for women, which Kristeva considered desirable, is to 
avoid both total father-identification and total mother-identification: 

Let us refuse both extremes. Let us know that an ostensibly masculine, 
paternal identification ... is necessary in order to have a voice in the chap- 
ter of politics and history . . . [But] let us right away be wary of the pre- 
mium on narcissism that such an integration can carry; let us reject the 
development of a “homologous” woman [i.e., an Electra], who is finally 
capable and virile; and let us rather act on the socio-politico-historical 
stage as her negative: that is, act first with all those who refuse and “swim 
against the tide” — all who rebel against the existing relations of produc- 
tion and reproduction. But let us not take the role of Revolutionary either, 
whether male or female: let us on the contrary refuse all roles to summon 
[a] truth outside time, a truth that is neither true nor false, that cannot be 
fitted into the order of speech and social symbolism. 93 

By “truth,” Kristeva meant the semiotic modality of language, said Leland. 94 
Yet Kristeva did not view as desirable the total replacement of the symbolic 
modality of language in the Symbolic order with the semiotic modality of 
language. Any attempt to totally substitute the symbolic with the semiotic 
would, in her estimation, destroy the Symbolic order and, with it, civiliza- 
tion. Everyone would be propelled back into the pre-Oedipal stage, or the 
Imaginary. Permanent existence in this stage is nothing more or less than 



162 Chapter 4: Psychoanalytic Feminism 


psychosis, according to Kristeva. Thus, the specific course of action Kristeva 
recommended for women who did not want to go crazy was to engage in an 
“impossible dialectic,” a “permanent alienation” between the semiotic (“ma- 
ternal” jouissance) and the Symbolic (“paternal” power or law). 95 

Reflecting on Kristeva’s recommendation to women, Leland and many 
other critics of psychoanalytic feminism cannot help but think that women 
must have more options than the ones noted above. Some of these critics 
suggest that gender need not be interpreted in terms of masculinity or femi- 
ninity only, and that sexuality need not be interpreted in terms of maleness 
or femaleness only. There are multiple genders and multiple sexualities. 96 
Other of these critics suggest instead that psychoanalytic feminists develop 
an entirely non-Freudian/non-Lacanian account of psychosexual develop- 
ment — an account that permits women as well as men to be civilized with- 
out assigning either sex to “second sex” status. The merits of this suggestion 
are obvious. Unfortunately, psychoanalytic feminists have not been able to 
find in the Western tradition a more convincing psychosexual tale to tell 
than some version of the Oedipal tale. Whether there are better psychosexual 
tales told in non-Western traditions is, therefore, an avenue for feminist 
speculation and exploration. 



5 


Care-Focused Feminism 


Over the last quarter of a century, many feminist thinkers have reflected on the 
fact that women are society’s primary caregivers worldwide. Women, far more 
than men, rear children, tend to the needs of the infirm, and take care of the 
elderly. Moreover, in many societies and certainly in the United States, women 
as a group are associated with values, virtues, and traits such as “interdepend- 
ence, community, connection, sharing, emotion, body, trust, absence of hierar- 
chy, nature, imminence, process, joy, peace, and life .” 1 In contrast, men as a 
group are associated with values, virtues, and traits such as “independence, 
autonomy, intellect, will, wariness, hierarchy, domination, culture, transcen- 
dence, product, ascetism, war, and death .” 2 Care-focused feminists offer various 
explanations for why societies label some values, virtues, and traits female, or 
feminine, and others male, or masculine. Some of these explanations focus on 
men’s and women’s separate biologies, others on men’s and women’s diverging 
psychosexual development paths, and still others on the ways in which societies 
systematically shape men’s and women’s distinct identities and behaviors. But 
whatever their explanation for men’s and women’s contrasting gender identities, 
care-focused feminists regard women’s capacities for care as a human strength 
rather than a human weakness. Moreover, care-focused feminists expend con- 
siderable energy developing a feminist ethics of care as a complement of, or even 
a substitute for, a traditional ethics of justice. 

In this chapter, we will examine the work of some key care-focused feminists 
to determine why women shoulder the burden of care in so many societies. We 


Portions of this chapter draw from Rosemarie Tong, Feminine and Feminist Ethics. Belmont, 
Calif.: Wadsdworth, 1993. 


163 




164 Chapter 5: Care-Focused Feminism 


will also consider, albeit to a lesser extent, why men as a group do not routinely 
engage in caring practices and whether this state of affairs contributes to 
women’s oppression. Finally, we will assess whether it is both feasible and desir- 
able to push the value of care out of the private domain into the public domain. 


The Roots of Care-Focused Feminism 

Carol Gilligan’s Ethics of Care 

In her groundbreaking book, In a Different Voice, moral psychologist Carol 
Gilligan noted that men’s emphasis on separation and autonomy leads them 
to develop a style of moral reasoning that stresses justice, fairness, and rights . 3 
In contrast, women’s emphasis on connections and relationships leads them to 
develop a style of moral reasoning that stresses the wants, needs, and interests 
of particular people. In addition to making this point, Gilligan claimed that 
because most experts in moral development theory have used male norms as 
opposed to human norms to measure women’s as well as men’s moral develop- 
ment, the experts have mistakenly concluded women are less morally devel- 
oped than men. Deeply disturbed by this negative assessment of women, 
Gilligan set out to prove that not women, but the standards used to judge 
women’s growth as moral persons, must be changed . 4 

In articulating her position that women are no less morally developed than 
men, Gilligan singled out her former mentor, Harvard’s Lawrence Kohlberg, 
for particular criticism. According to Kohlberg, moral development consists of 
a six-stage process through which a child must pass to become a fully function- 
ing moral agent. Stage One is “the punishment and obedience orientation.” To 
avoid the “stick” of punishment or receive the “carrot” of a reward, the young 
child does as he or she is told. Stage Two is “the instrumental relativist orienta- 
tion.” Based on a limited principle of reciprocity (“you scratch my back and I’ll 
scratch yours”), the young child does what meets others’ needs, but only if his 
or her own needs are thereby met. Stage Three is “the interpersonal concor- 
dance or ‘good boy- nice girl’ orientation.” The maturing child conforms to 
prevailing moral norms in order to secure the approbation of other people. 
Stage Four is “the ‘law and order’ orientation.” The maturing child begins to 
do his or her duty, show respect for authority, and maintain the given social 
order for its own sake. Stage Five is “the social-contract legalistic orientation.” 
The young adult adopts an essentially utilitarian moral point of view according 
to which individuals are permitted to do as they please, provided they refrain 
from harming other people in the process. Stage Six is “the universal ethical 
principle orientation.” The adult adopts an essentially Kantian moral point of 
view that provides a moral perspective universal enough to serve as a critique of 



The Roots of Care-Focused Feminism 165 


any conventional morality. The adult is no longer ruled by self-interest, the 
opinion of others, or the force of legal convention but by self-legislated and 
self-imposed universal principles such as justice, reciprocity, and respect for the 
dignity of human persons. 5 

Gilligan took exception to Kohlberg’s sixfold scale not because she regarded it 
as entirely without merit but because girls and women tested on it rarely got 
past Stage Three, the good-boy/nice-girl stage. Fearing that people would inter- 
pret this test result as confirming Freud’s view that women are less moral than 
men, Gilligan set out to prove that womens low scores on Kohlberg’s test were 
undeserved. She hypothesized that women did poorly on Kohlberg’s scale 
because of its flawed design. It was, in her estimation, a test constructed to mea- 
sure mens method of moral reasoning, as if men’s way of moral reasoning was 
the standard of human moral reasoning. As a result of the scale’s faulty construc- 
tion, women who did not morally reason like men did poorly on it. Gilligan 
claimed the solution to this state of affairs was not to construct a test to measure 
womens method of moral reasoning, as if women’s way of moral reasoning was 
the standard of human moral reasoning. Rather, the solution was to develop a 
test that could accurately measure both men’s and women’s moral development. 
Neither men nor women should be viewed as the morally inferior sex. 

Eager to understand more about how women reason toward a moral deci- 
sion, Gilligan conducted an empirical study of twenty-nine pregnant women. 
Each of these women was deciding whether to abort her fetus. Gilligan inter- 
viewed these women as they were working through their decision and some- 
times after they had done so. She eventually concluded that no matter their 
age, social class, marital status, or ethnic background, each of these women 
manifested a way of thinking about moral matters that differed markedly 
from that of the men tested on Kohlberg’s moral development scale. Rather 
than approaching the abortion decision analytically as if they were scientists 
trying to determine whose rights weigh more — the fetus’s or the woman’s — 
the women in Gilligan’s study approached the abortion decision as a human 
relations problem. They worried about how their decision would affect not 
only the fetus but also themselves in connection to their partners, parents, 
friends, and so on, and they moved back and forth between three levels of 
moral reasoning as they sought to make moral sense of their abortion deci- 
sion. Gilligan noted that the women who failed to come fully to terms with 
their abortion decision remained stuck either in Level One moral reasoning, 
in which the moral agent overemphasizes her own interests, or in Level Two 
moral reasoning, in which the moral agent overemphasizes others’ interests. 
In contrast, the women who engaged in Level Three moral reasoning, in 
which the moral agents strike a balance between their own interests and those 
of others, appeared most at peace with their abortion decision. 6 



166 Chapter 5: Care-Focused Feminism 

The more Gilligan reflected on the words of the twenty-nine women she 
interviewed, the more able she was to describe the differences between a 
Level One, a Level Two, and a Level Three mode of moral reasoning. At 
Level One, she said, the self is the sole object of a woman’s concern. This 
self is a disappointed self that feels very alone in the world. “I must,” says 
this self, “take care of myself because no one else in the world cares about 
me and my happiness.” 7 No wonder, said Gilligan, that the Level One 
moral reasoners in her study often regarded a baby as a person who would 
love them, making their lives less bleak. As these women struggled further 
through their abortion decision, however, many of them started to see that a 
baby, no less than themselves, is a vulnerable person in need of love. They 
began, noted Gilligan, to reinterpret their self-interest as selfishness. So, for 
example, a seventeen-year-old who wanted a baby to provide herself with 
companionship ultimately decided it would be wrong for her to have a child 
exclusively for this reason. She realized that she did not have the means to 
take care of a baby: “What I want to do is to have the baby, but what I feel I 
should do, which is what I need to do, is have an abortion right now, because 
sometimes what you want isn’t right. Sometimes what is necessary comes be- 
fore what you want, because it might not always lead to the right thing.” 8 

Making the transition from “wish” to “necessity” — from “the ‘selfishness’ 
of willful decision” to “the ‘responsibility’ of moral choice” — is not easy, said 
Gilligan. Level Two moral reasoning requires women to reach out to others 
and recognize the importance of others’ interests. But there is a problem with 
Level Two moral reasoning, according to Gilligan. Women who stop at it are 
in peril of equating goodness with self-sacrifice and always subjugating their 
own wants to those of other people. 

Gilligan provided the example of a woman in her study whose lover wanted 
her to have an abortion despite her desire to bring the fetus to term. Because this 
woman wanted both the baby and her lover’s approval, she found herself in a 
moral “no-win” situation. On the one hand, she felt that aborting the fetus 
would be “selfish.” She would thereby secure one of her wants, her lover’s 
approval. On the other hand, she felt that not aborting the fetus would also be 
“selfish.” She would thereby secure another of her wants, a baby. The woman rea- 
soned that no matter what she decided to do, she would hurt someone: either her 
lover or her fetus. In the end, the woman decided to have the abortion, consoling 
herself it was not really her decision but her lover’s. Because the woman resented 
her lover’s “decision,” however, her resentment gradually turned to anger, souring 
the very relationship for which she had sacrificed her child. 9 

Carefully reflecting on this woman’s abortion decision, Gilligan claimed 
that in order to avoid becoming a resentful, angry, even hateful person, a 
woman needs to push beyond Level Two to Level Three moral reasoning. As 



The Roots of Care-Focused Feminism 167 


a woman moves towards Level Three moral reasoning, the decision to abort, 
for example, becomes a choice she must make about how best to care for the 
fetus, herself, and anyone else likely to be deeply affected by her decision. 
One of the women in Gilligan’s study explained her decision to have an abor- 
tion as just such a choice: “I would not be doing myself or the child or the 
world any kind of favor having this child. I don’t need to pay off my imagi- 
nary debts to the world through this child, and I don’t think that it is right to 
bring a child into the world and use it for that purpose .” 10 Gilligan charac- 
terized this woman’s transition from Level Two to Level Three moral reason- 
ing as a transition from goodness to truth. A woman moves from simply 
pleasing others — being the conventionally good, always self-sacrificing 
woman — to honestly recognizing her own needs as part of any relationship. 

It is clear that in Gilligan’s estimation women’s style of moral reasoning is 
no better or worse than men’s. It is simply different. Moreover, stressed Gilli- 
gan, although a woman or a man might, as an individual or as a member of a 
group, typically engage in a certain style of moral reasoning, fully developed 
moral agents are likely to display a marked ability to speak the languages of 
care and justice equally well. Had Gilligan stopped her research on moral 
development with this observation, we could confidently conclude that, for 
her, the morally androgynous person is the paradigm moral agent. However, af- 
ter writing In a Different Voice, Gilligan hinted that the ideal moral thinker 
might after all be more inclined to an ethics of care than an ethics of justice. 
In her anthology Mapping the Moral Domain, she expressed concern that a 
high percentage of today’s adolescents “tend[ed] to characterize care-focused 
solutions or inclusive problem-solving strategies as utopian or outdated .” 11 
Gilligan worried that because our culture overvalues scientific, objective, and 
rational thinking, teachers urge students to use only their heads and not also 
their hearts in moral deliberation. Challenging the wisdom of this pedagogi- 
cal approach, Gilligan claimed that in many ways, young children who have 
not been schooled to suppress their feelings seem more moral than adults. Pre- 
cisely because of their strong attachments to family members and friends, 
young children seem not only really to care about the feelings, wants, needs, 
and interests of those to whom they are related but also to act upon these sen- 
timents. That girls are more likely than boys to grow into adults who continue 
to respond to other people’s need to be loved and appreciated is probably not 
a sign of women’s moral weakness, then, but of women’s moral strength. 

Nel Noddings’s Ethics of Care 

Like Gilligan, care-focused feminist Nel Noddings claimed that women and 
men speak different moral languages and that our culture favors a “masculine” 



168 Chapter 5: Care-Focused Feminism 


ethics of justice over a “feminine” ethics of care. Although women can speak 
the language of justice as well as men can, said Noddings, this language is not 
women’s native moral tongue. Indeed, women seem to enter the moral realm 
through a “different door” than men do, focusing less on “principles and 
propositions” and “terms such as justification, fairness, and justice” and more 
on “human caring and the memory of caring and being cared for.” 12 As a 
result, women’s style of moral reasoning is far less abstract and far more con- 
crete than men’s. For example, said Noddings, when faced with a decision 
about further medical treatment for her dying child, a mother is not likely to 
approach this intensely personal decision as she would approach an extremely 
difficult math problem. On the contrary, as she struggles to determine what is 
in her child’s best interest, a mother will consult her personal ideals, feelings, 
and impressions. 13 She will not let her child suffer unnecessary pain for no 
good reason; she will do what her “heart” tells her “head” to do. 

Ethics, insisted Noddings, is about particular relations, where a “relation” 
means “a set of ordered pairs generated by some rule that describes the 
affect — or subjective experience — of the members.” 14 When all goes well, 
the cared-for person actively receives the caring deeds of the one caring, spon- 
taneously sharing her or his aspirations, appraisals, and accomplishments 
with the one caring. Caring is not simply a matter of feeling favorably dis- 
posed toward humankind in general, of being concerned about people with 
whom we have no concrete connections. There is, said Noddings, a funda- 
mental difference between the kind of care a mother gives her child and the 
kind of care a well-off American philanthropist gives a starving Somali child 
she or he has never met. Real care requires an active encounter with specific 
individuals; it cannot be accomplished through good intentions alone. 

Noddings stressed the universality of the caring attitude underpinning her 
ethics. Caring is a defining feature of human beings, at least as important as 
their capacity for rationality. A child’s memories of caring, for example, are 
not memories peculiar to him or her alone, said Noddings. On the contrary, 
virtually all human beings have such memories. Indeed, Noddings went so 
far as to claim “that the impulse to act in behalf of the present other is itself 
innate. It lies latent in each of us, awaiting gradual development in a succes- 
sion of caring relations.” 15 

Because our memories of caring and being cared for can fade, Noddings 
emphasized that we must use education to enhance our natural tendency to 
care. She noted our initial experiences of care come easily. We act from a nat- 
ural caring that impels us to help others because we want to: “The relation of 
natural caring will be identified as the human condition that we, consciously 
or unconsciously, perceive as ‘good.’ It is that condition toward which we 



The Roots of Care-Focused Feminism 169 


long and strive, and it is our longing for caring — to be in that special rela- 
tion — that provides the motivation for us to be moral. We want to be moral 
in order to remain in the caring relation and to enhance the ideal of ourselves 
as one-caring.” 16 The little boy helps his exhausted mother fold the laundry 
simply because she is his mother, claimed Noddings. He wants to be con- 
nected to her and to have her recognize him as her helper. Later, when he is 
an adolescent, his childhood memories both of caring for his mother and 
being cared for by his mother flood over him “as a feeling — as an ‘I must.’” 17 
In remembrance of his little-boy sentiments, he may choose to be late for a 
party so that he can help his mother instead. In such a circumstance, natural 
caring morphs into ethical caring, a deliberate, critical, and reflective exten- 
sion of natural caring. 

We should note that Noddings did not describe moral development as the 
process of replacing natural caring with ethical caring. Although ethical car- 
ing requires efforts that natural caring does not, Noddings disagreed with 
philosopher Immanuel Kant’s view that doing things because we ought to do 
them is necessarily better than doing things because we want to do them. In 
contrast to Kant, Noddings argued our “oughts” build on our “wants”: 

Recognizing that ethical caring requires an effort that is not needed in 
natural caring does not commit us to a position that elevates ethical car- 
ing over natural caring. Kant has identified the ethical with that which is 
done out of duty and not out of love, and that distinction in itself seems 
right. But an ethic built on caring strives to maintain the caring attitude 
and is thus dependent upon, and not superior to, natural caring. The 
source of ethical behavior is, then, in twin sentiments — one that feels di- 
rectly for the other and one that feels for and with that best self, who 
may accept and sustain the initial feeling rather than reject it. 18 

Morality is not about affirming others’ needs through the process of deny- 
ing one’s own interests. Rather, morality is about affirming one’s own interests 
through the process of affirming others’ needs. When we act morally (engage 
in ethical caring), we act to fulfill our “fundamental and natural desire to be 
and to remain related.” 19 We meet others’ needs not because inclination 
impels us to do so, or because reason forces us to do so, but because we reflec- 
tively choose to do so. 

In addition to her book on caring, Noddings wrote a book on evil, in 
which she claimed women are more capable of withstanding evil than men 
are. According to Noddings, women’s understanding of evil is concrete, 
whereas men’s understanding of evil is abstract. For women, an evil event is a 



170 Chapter 5: Care-Focused Feminism 

harmful event, something that hurts someone in particular. For men, an evil 
event is a rule-breaking event — a violation of God’s commandments or the 
state’s laws. Wanting to replace the abstract idea of evil as sin, guilt, impurity, 
and fault with the concrete experience of evil as “that which harms or threat- 
ens harm,” 20 Noddings insisted that eliminating evil is not about punishing 
sinners. Rather, it is about reducing the kind of pain, separation, and help- 
lessness infants typically feel. Evil is isolation in one’s hour of need, and the 
way to overcome isolation is through relationship. 

In her attempt to further elucidate the differences between the “mascu- 
line” idea of evil and the “feminine” experience of evil, Noddings interpreted 
a story Doris Lessing told in The Diary of a Good Neighbor. In Lessing’s story, 
Jane, a middle-aged, highly successful novelist and magazine editor, tries to 
alleviate the suffering of Maudie, a physically unattractive, lower-class, 
ninety-year-old woman. Several female nurses and nurse aides assist Jane’s 
efforts. In contrast to the male physician, who views Maudie as a “case,” 
these women view Maudie as a unique individual who needs their help to 
fight the infirmities of old age and the ravages of disease. Reflecting on the 
women ministering to Maudie, Noddings noted none of them found 
abstract “meaning” in their patient’s suffering. Nor did any of them speak of 
“God’s will,” as if Maudie’s suffering were the price she had to pay for her 
“sins.” On the contrary, they simply worked “to relieve her pain, alleviate her 
loneliness, and preserve — as nearly as they [could] — her autonomy.” For 
Maudie’s female healers, evil is “the deliberate or negligent failure” to help 
someone whose body is racked with pain, whose spirit is in anguish, or 
whose dignity as a person is in jeopardy. 21 

Interwoven among the pages of Women and Evil and the pages of Caring is a 
relational ethics, a type of ethics to which Noddings believed women are predis- 
posed. In discussing the evils of poverty, Noddings issued a call to end the kind 
of nonrelational, dichotomous thinking she believed is the fundamental source 
of all human conflicts. She specifically rejected the kind of finger-pointing that 
causes the rich to trace poverty to the sloth, genetic weakness, and lack of ambi- 
tion of the poor, and, in turn, the poor to trace poverty to the indifference, 
ruthlessness, and greed of the rich. In either instance, the one-sided nature of 
such us-versus-them thinking offers a distorted view of the true causes of 
poverty. The only way to get an accurate picture of the actual causes of poverty, 
said Noddings, is for mediators to help both the rich and the poor see the lies 
embedded in their perceptions of each other. 

Noddings summoned women to take the lead in bridging the perspectival 
gap that separates the poor from the rich. Because women have traditionally 
mediated between squabbling family members, they have learned how to 



The Roots of Care-Focused Feminism 171 


“persuade, plead, appeal and sympathize, interpret, reward, and above all at- 
tribute the best possible motive consonant with reality to both parties to [a] 
dispute.” If anyone can improve the vision of both the rich and the poor, it is 
women, said Noddings. They have the moral skills to reach a loving compro- 
mise between people who are not yet each others’ equals. 22 

Like poverty, war is another evil whose roots Noddings traced to a morally 
distorted worldview. With Homer’s Iliad begins the celebration of the war- 
rior hero, a celebration that paradoxically couples Greek rationality and 
moderation on the one hand with Greek irrationality and violence on the 
other. Rather than challenging the warrior hero and his deadly projects, 
Western philosophy tended to honor him. Indeed, said Noddings, even 
philosopher William James, who sought for war’s “moral equivalent” — that 
is, for “something heroic that will speak to men as universally as war 
does” 23 — nonetheless praised the warrior’s virtues: his boldness, energy, and 
valor. Wondering whether it is morally better to be a monk than a soldier, 
James initially opted for a military ideal as opposed to an ascetic ideal. Only 
after he managed to reconceive the ascetic life in heroic rather than “effemi- 
nate” terms did James produce a convincing argument against war and for 
peace. Provided that the monk, like the soldier, goes about his business like a 
man, his path is the one to follow since blood is not spilled on it senselessly. 
In order to feel good about himself, a man supposedly must strive to do his 
perceived duty no matter what the cost to himself or others. If a man is a 
warrior, he is to emulate the soldier who fights the hardest. If he is a monk, 
he is to emulate the martyr who suffers the most: “To reach the extremes by 
choice, whether of war or pacifism, of poverty or wealth, requires [s] striving, 
and striving for extremes has been a mark of manhood.” 24 

As Noddings saw it, war will not be discarded in favor of peace until con- 
certed caring aimed at uniting people replaces ambitious striving aimed at 
dividing people by making some individuals winners and other individuals 
losers. Only when the underappreciated art of relational ethics, of working 
together to maintain connection, comes into its own will peace have a 
chance. It is not that women do not strive. They do. It is just that when they 
strive, they do so not with the unrealistic aim of vanquishing their external 
foes or internal demons once and for all, but with the realistic goal of contin- 
uing as best they can. “A woman knows that she can never win the battle 
against dust, that she will have to feed family members again and again (and 
that no meals are likely to go down in history), that she must tend the garden 
every year, and that she cannot overcome most of its enemies but must treat 
them with the sort of moderation that encourages harmony,” said 
Noddings. 25 Any woman who realizes her loved ones’ survival may someday 



172 Chapter 5: Care-Focused Feminism 


depend on her having good relations with her opponents also realizes that 
bad relations — quintessential^, war — are not a genuine solution to the prob- 
lems underlying the us-versus-them dichotomy. 

Caring does not give birth to rivals. Striving to be the best at any cost — 
the invidious competition hidden within the Greek idea of excellence — does 
not promote caring. On the contrary, the rivalry prevalent in our society 
quickly leads to enmity, and enmity leads to disaster. Noddings insisted that 
in order to avoid war, we must stop trying to be “number one,” instead ori- 
enting ourselves to the task of creating good human relationships. 

Noddings realized we cannot eliminate all evil, since it stems foremost 
from a separation of ourselves from other human beings, from an objectifica- 
tion of those around us. We can only reduce evil by accepting and combating 
our own penchant for it. Suppose, said Noddings, your child was going to be 
killed in one hour unless you found her, and standing before you was a man 
who knew where she was but would not tell you. Would you be able and 
willing to torture the information out of him? Noddings admitted she, for 
one, would be up to this “challenge.” 26 Yet she asked herself whether this one 
exception to her rule of “do no evil” would lead her to make a series of excep- 
tions, the sum total of which would negate the very rule upon which she had 
built her own morality. 

For an answer to this disturbing question, Noddings turned to a story in 
Simon Wiesenthal’s novel The Sunflower. Here, a young Jewish man, who 
turns out to be Simon himself, comes to the bedside of a dying Nazi named 
Karl. Guilt ridden because of his role in the Holocaust, Karl beseeches Simon 
to forgive him. Simon experiences feelings of both pity and repugnance to- 
ward Karl. After several minutes pass, however, Simon leaves without saying a 
word of forgiveness to him. He asks his readers to plumb their own souls and 
answer the question, “What would you have done in my place?” 

In her reflections on Simon’s story, Noddings implied that, had she been in 
Simons place, she would have forgiven Karl. She claimed that because Simon 
viewed himself symbolically, as a representative of the Jewish people, he could 
not see the situation that confronted him relationally. In other words, Simon 
could not see the dying Nazi as an individual human being begging his forgive- 
ness. Instead, Simon could see only Nazis in general: they who, as a group, had 
caused unforgivable harm to Jews in general. Commented Noddings: “Seeing 
each other and ourselves as symbols, is part of what sustains our capacity to 
inflict suffering.” 27 In Noddings’s estimation, Simon added to rather than sub- 
tracted from the worlds evil when he refused to forgive Karl. She pointed out 
that even if Simon could only have yelled or screamed at Karl, a relationship of 
sorts might have been established between them: “Then gradually each might 



The Roots of Care-Focused Feminism 173 


have seen the full horror of their situation. They both might have seen that the 
possibility of perpetrating unspeakable crimes lay in Simon as well as in Karl 
and that the possibility and thus the responsibility to resist lay also in both.” 28 

When we anesthetize our souls to the cries of other human beings in 
pain — to men, women, and children who feel separate and helpless — we 
succumb to evil, concluded Noddings. Evil is not an abstract phenomenon; 
it is a concrete reality that takes one or more of five forms: 

1 . Inflicting pain (unless it can be demonstrated that doing so will or is at 
least likely to spare the victim greater pain in the future) 

2. Inducing the pain of separation 

3. Neglecting relation so that the pain of separation follows or those sep- 
arated are thereby dehumanized 

4. Deliberately or carelessly causing helplessness 

5. Creating elaborate systems of mystification that contribute to the fear 
of helplessness or to its actual maintenance 29 

These actions, said Noddings, are evil. No higher or better good can ever 
justify our causing each other pain or rendering each other separate or help- 
less. Men must learn what women have known for some time, that “one’s 
soul dies as soon as it detaches from the concrete persons who stretch out 
their hands in need or friendship.” 30 Ethics is about overcoming pain, sepa- 
ration, and helplessness — a task that requires human beings to relate to each 
other as creatures whose goodness requires a sense of community. 

Critiques of Gilligan and Noddings 

Although many readers of Gilligan and Noddings thought these two women 
had correctly identified the different ways men and women approach moral 
issues, by no means was the response to an ethics of care universally favor- 
able. Many thinkers found the work of both Gilligan and Noddings objec- 
tionable. In particular, they questioned the wisdom of too closely linking 
women to an ethics of care. 

Critiques of Gilligan. Much criticism was directed at Gilligan’s methodol- 
ogy. 31 Some critics claimed that Gilligan’s empirical data was too thin to support 
the weighty generalizations she made about men’s and women’s supposedly dif- 
ferent moral voices. 32 They emphasized that although most of the women in 
Gilligan’s study made reference to their husbands, boyfriends, lovers, and fa- 
thers, Gilligan failed to ask these men about their views on abortion. Elad she 



174 Chapter 5: Care-Focused Feminism 


chosen to interview the men populating the background of her study, said the 
critics, Gilligan might have produced a more convincing study about men’s and 
women’s allegedly different styles of moral reasoning. Then again, continued the 
critics, she might have instead produced a study showing that men and women 
actually reason quite similarly about matters such as abortion. Such a study re- 
sult would have had dramatic consequences for Gilligan, however. Indeed, it 
would have required Gilligan to rethink her views about women’s supposed 
ethics of care and men’s supposed ethics of justice. 

Other critics of Gilligan’s methodology faulted Gilligan for focusing 
too much on the gender of the diverse women in her study. They claimed 
she thereby lost many opportunities to consider how race and class shape 
an individual’s morality. Specifically, sociologist Carol Stack stressed the 
empirical evidence that, in certain circumstances, poor African American 
men as well as poor African American women favor care reasoning over 
justice reasoning. Indeed, in a study she herself conducted on poor 
African Americans migrating from urban environments in the North to 
rural environments in the South, Stack found that “under conditions of 
economic deprivation there is a convergence between women and men in 
their construction of themselves in relationship to others.” She further 
found that “these conditions produce a convergence also in women’s and 
men’s vocabulary of rights, morality, and the social good.” 33 

As hard as it was for Gilligan to address critics of her methodology, it was 
even more difficult for her to address critics who claimed that even if women 
are better carers than men (for whatever reasons), it may still be epistemi- 
cally, ethically, and politically unwise to advertise this state of affairs. Linking 
women with caring may promote the view that women care by nature, or the 
view that because women can and have cared, they should always care, no 
matter the cost to themselves. 

Among the critics who worried about the negative consequences of associat- 
ing women too closely with the values of care was Sandra Lee Bartky. In Femi- 
ninity and Domination, Bartky sought to determine whether women’s 
experience of feeding men’s egos and tending men’s wounds ultimately disem- 
powers or empowers women. By way of example, she noted that the kind of 
“emotional work” female flight attendants typically do often leads “to self- 
estrangement, an inability to identify one’s own emotional states, even to drug 
abuse or alcoholism.” 34 To pay a person to be “relentlessly cheerful” 35 — to smile 
at even the most verbally abusive and unreasonably demanding passengers — 
means paying a person to feign a certain set of emotions, said Bartky. A person 
can pretend to be happy only so many times before the person forgets how it 
feels to be genuinely or authentically happy. 



The Roots of Care-Focused Feminism 175 


Admitting that the kind of emotional work female flight attendants typi- 
cally do for passengers is somewhat different from the kind of emotional 
work wives typically do for their husbands, Bartky noted that many wives 
find the experience of caring for their husbands empowering. The better 
caregiver a wife is, the more she may regard herself as the pillar without 
whom her husband would crumble. But, cautioned Bartky, subjective feelings 
of empowerment are not the same as the objective reality of actually having 
power. Women’s androcentric emotional work probably harms women far 
more than it benefits them in the long run. According to Bartky, caring 
women reinforce men’s status through a variety of “bodily displays,” includ- 
ing “the sympathetic cocking of the head; the forward inclination of the 
body; the frequent smiling; the urging, through appropriate vocalizations, 
that the man continue his recital, hence, that he may continue to comman- 
deer the woman’s time and attention.” Men do not accord women similar 
status, however, and because they do not, said Bartky, women’s care of men 
amounts to “a collective genuflection by women to men, an affirmation of 
male importance that is unreciprocated.” 36 

In Bartky’s estimation, the epistemic and ethical consequences of women’s 
unreciprocated care of men is most worrisome. The more emotional support 
a woman gives a man, the more she will tend to see things as he sees them. 
She will participate in his projects, share his friends, rejoice in his successes, 
and feel badly about his failures. But women do not need yet another reason 
to lose their sense of self or to doubt their own vision of reality and version of 
the truth. Men’s and women’s interests are not identical in a patriarchal soci- 
ety, and it is important for women to realize this. 

As bad as it is, from an epistemic point of view, to know the world only or 
primarily through someone else’s eyes, especially someone who looks down 
on you, it is even worse, from an ethical point of view, to affirm someone 
else’s morality no matter the goodness or badness of his or her values. Bartky 
pointed to Teresa Stangl, wife of Fritz Stangl, commandant ofTreblinka, as 
an example. Although her husband’s monstrous activities horrified Teresa, 
she continued to “feed” and “tend” him dutifully, even lovingly. She played 
footloose and fancy free with her own soul as she helped him deaden his con- 
science. Quoting a passage from Jill Tweedie’s In the Name of Love, Bartky 
observed that one cannot remain silent about evil and expect to keep one’s 
goodness entirely intact: “Behind every great man is a woman, we say, but 
behind every monster there is a woman too, behind each of those countless 
men who stood astride their narrow worlds and crushed other human be- 
ings, causing them hideous suffering and pain. There she is in the shadows, a 
vague female silhouette, tenderly wiping blood from their hands.” 37 Because 



176 Chapter 5: Care-Focused Feminism 


horror perpetrated by a loved one is still horror, women need to analyze “the 
pitfalls and temptations of caregiving itself” 38 before they embrace an ethics 
of care wholeheartedly. 

For reasons related to Bartky’s concerns about any ethics of care, philoso- 
pher Bill Puka singled out Gilligan’s ethics of care for special criticism. He 
claimed care can be interpreted in two ways: (1) in Gilligan’s way, “as a gen- 
eral orientation toward moral problems (interpersonal problems) and a track 
of moral development”; or (2) in his way, “as a sexist service orientation, 
prominent in the patriarchal socialization, social conventions, and roles of 
many cultures.” 39 Those who interpret care as Gilligan did will trace 
women’s moral development through the three levels presented earlier in this 
chapter. In contrast, those who interpret care as Puka did will view these sup- 
posed levels of moral development as coping mechanisms women use defen- 
sively in a patriarchal world structured to work against their best interests. 

Puka developed a persuasive case for his view of care. First, he presented 
Level One moral reasoning in Gilligan as those strategies of self-protection 
and self-concern women use to avoid rejection or domination. “I’ve got to 
look out for myself” and “If I don’t care about myself, no one else will” are 
statements likely to be uttered by a woman who believes that others are not 
likely to concern themselves about her needs. 40 On the contrary, others are 
likely to use her only as long as she pleases them. Thus, she must be prepared 
for the day she is no longer wanted because she has outlived her usefulness or 
desirability. 

Second, Puka presented Level Two moral reasoning in Gilligan as a resump- 
tion of the “conventional slavish approach” that women typically adopt in a 
patriarchal society. 41 Although Level Two moral reasoning is frequently 
described as authentically altruistic, as if women truly want to put other people’s 
needs and interests always ahead of their own, in reality such moral reasoning is 
simply another coping mechanism. Women learn if they make life as easy as 
possible for others, they will be treated well enough, but if they insist on having 
things their own way, they will pay dearly for their willfulness. 

Finally, Puka presented Level Three moral reasoning in Gilligan as a coping 
mechanism involving elements of both self-protection and slavishness: “Here 
a woman learns where she can exercise her strengths, interest, and commit- 
ments (within the male power structure) and where she would do better to 
comply (with that structure). A delicate contextual balance must be struck to 
be effective here.” 42 Insofar as a woman is rationally calculating her chances of 
surviving and possibly even thriving within a patriarchy, Level Three moral 
reasoning constitutes a degree of cognitive liberation for her. It does not, how- 
ever, signal personal liberation for her. As long as society remains patriarchal, 



The Roots of Care-Focused Feminism 1 77 


women will not be able to strike a good balance between rights and responsi- 
bilities in their moral lives. 

Not only was Gilligan criticized for overestimating the value of an ethics of 
care, she was criticized for underappreciating the value of an ethics of justice. 
For example, philosopher Brian Barry dismissed Gilligan’s ethics of care “as an 
invitation to dispense with morality and replace it with nepotism, favoritism, 
and injustice.” 43 Indeed, Barry went so far as to claim that care-focused women 
“would have to be excluded from all public responsibilities [because] it would 
be impossible to trust them to carry out public duties conscientiously.” 44 

Less harsh than Barry’s criticism of Gilligan’s ethics of care were those criti- 
cisms that faulted her simply for not better explaining the relationship between 
care and justice. 45 For example, philosopher George Sher claimed that Gilligan 
needed to present care and justice more as fully complementary aspects of 
morality and less as totally different ways of conceiving morality. No matter 
how “abstract” and “impartial” ethicists are, they still have to attend to matters 
of context to determine whether an action does in fact constitute adultery, 
murder, rape, or arson. Similarly, no matter how “concrete” and “partial” ethi- 
cists are, they cannot focus on each element of a moral situation equally with- 
out being mired in a swamp of details. 46 Nor can they focus on one persons 
good in a network of relationships to the exclusion of others’ good. 

Sher’s criticism of Gilligan was developed at greater length by Marilyn 
Friedman. As Friedman saw it, justice is relevant to care in at least three 
ways. First, if we view a personal relationship as a “miniature social system 
which provides valued mutual intimacy, support, and concern for those 
who are involved,” 47 we will fault relationships in which one person is the 
main “giver” and the other the main “taker.” Regrettably, continued Fried- 
man, many heterosexual relationships are deficient in just such a way. 
Women often serve men’s physical and psychological needs and wants 
with little or no reciprocation for their caregiving acts. At some point, 
said Friedman, women must take men to task and demand, as a matter of 
justice, reciprocation. It is not fair for one person in a relationship to 
shoulder the lion’s portion of the burden of care, while the other lounges 
in the security of being well cared for. 

Second, noted Friedman, personal relationships create “special vulnera- 
bilities to harm.” 48 When someone who supposedly cares about us harms 
us, we may feel especially hurt or violated. An injustice perpetrated in the 
context of a caring relationship, said Friedman, is in many ways far worse 
than an injustice perpetrated outside such a context. For example, rape by 
an acquaintance may inflict deeper psychological wounds than rape by a 
stranger, because a “date rapist” takes advantage of the victim’s trust. 



178 Chapter 5: Care-Focused Feminism 

Third, stressed Friedman, if we focus on our closest relationships, espe- 
cially our familial relationships, we will discover they are fraught with the 
potential for myriad injustices. Should Mom and Dad give their son privi- 
leges they are not willing to give their daughter? Should Mr. and Mrs. Jones 
pay for their parents’ nursing home expenses, or should they instead pay for 
their children’s college education? Should Mr. Smith give up an excellent job 
so that he can move with Ms. Chang, who has a mediocre job, to a city 
where she will have an excellent job but he will have only a mediocre one? 
Unassisted by notions of justice, care cannot adequately address these ques- 
tions, insisted Friedman. Despite Sher’s and Friedman’s valid point about the 
interaction between justice and care, in fairness to Gilligan, they should have 
properly credited her for also exploring this interaction in several of her writ- 
ings. Initially, Gilligan offered a care-justice convergence theory. She claimed 
that, properly practiced, care and justice 

converge in the realization that just as inequality adversely affects both 
parties in an unequal relationship, so too violence is destructive for 
everyone involved. This dialogue between fairness and care not only 
provides a better understanding of relations between the sexes but also 
gives rise to a more comprehensive portrayal of adult work and family 
relationships. 49 

But later, Gilligan replaced her care -justice convergence theory with a care- 
justice gestalt theory. Like an ambiguous drawing that may be seen either as a 
duck or as a rabbit, a moral drama may be framed either in terms of justice or 
in terms of care, she said. Although these two perspectives never completely 
and finally converge, they are not usually diametrically opposed polarities, 
stressed Gilligan. Most individuals are able to interpret a moral drama first 
from one of these perspectives and then from the other, even if a few individ- 
uals lack this perspectival skill. In the same way that some individuals can see 
only the duck or only the rabbit in an ambiguous “duck-rabbit” drawing, 
some individuals can view moral issues only through the lens of care or only 
through the lens of justice. 50 

Critiques of Noddings. In some ways, Noddings met with even more 
criticism than Gilligan did. Although some of the criticisms directed 
against Noddings echoed those directed against Gilligan, others were 
unique to Noddings’s work. For example, Sarah Lucia Floagland focused 
on Noddings’s seeming preoccupation with unequal relationships in which 
one person depends on the other for care. 51 As Floagland saw it, the overall 



The Roots of Care-Focused Feminism 179 


picture Noddings draws is that of the one-caring consistently giving and 
the cared-for consistently taking. In fact, said Hoagland, Noddings occa- 
sionally implies that the cared-for has no obligation to the one-caring over 
and beyond being a unique self: “The cared-for is free to be more fully 
himself in the caring relation. Indeed, this being himself, this willing and 
unselfconscious revealing of self, is his major contribution to the relation. 
This is his tribute to the one-caring.” 52 Such a “tribute” to the one-caring 
is sad, said Hoagland. A unidirectional mode of caring does little to teach 
the cared-for about the burdens of the one-caring, and it does even less to 
teach the one-caring about the legitimacy of her or his own needs. 

Hoagland also faulted Noddings for claiming that some type of “ethical 
diminishment” is almost always the consequence of breaking a relationship, 
even an abusive one. Hoagland was particularly disturbed by the following 
passage in Noddings ’s Caring: 

While I must not kill in obedience to law or principle, I may not, either, 
refuse to kill in obedience to principle. To remain one-caring, I might 
have to kill. Consider the case of a woman who kills her sleeping hus- 
band. Under most circumstances, the one-caring would judge such an act 
wrong. It violates the very possibility of caring for the husband. But as 
she hears how the husband abused his wife and children, about the fear 
with which the woman lived, about the past efforts to solve the problem 
legally, the one-caring revises her judgment. The jury finds the woman 
not guilty by reason of an extenuated self-defense. The one-caring finds 
her ethical, but under the guidance of a sadly diminished ethical ideal. 
The woman has behaved in the only way she found open to protect her- 
self and her children and, thus, she has behaved in accord with the cur- 
rent vision of herself as one-caring. But what a horrible vision! She is now 
one-who-has-killed once and who would not kill again, and never again 
simply one who would not kill. 53 

Angered by Noddings’s words, Hoagland asserted that “ethical diminish- 
ment” is not the fate of the woman described above. On the contrary, ethical 
empowerment is her fate. The abused woman has finally found the moral 
strength to exchange a disempowering and false ethical “ideal” for an empow- 
ering and true ethical ideal. An ethics that keeps the one-caring in a destruc- 
tive relationship is not a good ethics, said Hoagland. If a wife is told that 
ending a relationship with an abusive husband may damage her moral self- 
image, this woman’s guilt, coupled with fear of reprisal on the man’s part, may 
cause her to stay in a relationship that may ultimately destroy her. Unlike 



180 Chapter 5: Care-Focused Feminism 

Noddings, Hoagland refused to say anything at all negative about women 
who end abusive relationships: “I must be able to assess any relationship for 
abuse/oppression and withdraw if I find it to be so. I feel no guilt, I have 
grown, I have learned something. I understand my part in the relationship. I 
separate. I will not be there again. Far from diminishing my ethical self, I am 
enhancing it.” 54 There are times in life when ethics demands we not care, in- 
sisted Hoagland. 

Reflecting on Noddings’s entire ethics of care, Hoagland concluded that it 
asks far too much in the way of care from the one-caring: 

In direct contrast to eros, which is self-centered, agape is other-centered. The 
caring of agape always moves away from itself and extends itself 
unconditionally. Certainly, Nel Noddingss analysis is that caring moves away 
from itself. However, I would add that since there are not expectations of the 
cared-for beyond being acknowledged by the one-caring, since my ethical self 
can emerge only through caring for others, since withdrawal constitutes a di- 
minished ideal, and since there is allegedly no evaluation in receiving the 
other, the one-caring extends itself virtually unconditionally. 55 

A demand for such a high degree of care on the part of the one-caring, con- 
tinued Hoagland, evokes the image of the proverbial black Southern 
mammy who not only obeyed but supposedly loved her master/ oppressor. If 
“motivational displacement is one consequence of enslavement,” exclaimed 
Hoagland, then Noddings’s analysis implies that “the care of the caring is 
successful if the son of a slave owner grows up under the one-caring of the 
mammy to become a master.” 56 

To these objections, Noddings replied that there is a difference between 
caring for others on the one hand and self-destruction on the other. Simple 
common sense dictates that “if caring is to be maintained, clearly, the one- 
caring must be maintained.” 57 Yet, continued Noddings, there are a variety 
of ways to maintain the one-caring, including ones that may permit the per- 
son to preserve her or his ethical ideal “undiminished.” Not every abusive 
marital relationship has to terminate with a divorce decree, a prison sentence 
for the abuser, or an act of preemptive self-defense, claimed Noddings. A bad 
relationship may yet be salvaged through appropriate and creative forms of 
intervention: 

Women in abusive relations need others to support them — to care for 
them. One of the best forms of support would be to surround the abusive 
husband with loving models who would not tolerate abuse in their presence 



Maternal Ethics and the Ethics of Care 181 


and would strongly disapprove of it whenever it occurred in their absence. 
Such models could support and re-educate the woman as well, helping her 
to understand her own self-worth. Too often, everyone withdraws from 
both the abuser and the sufferer. 58 

But, said the critics, even if some flawed relationships can be salvaged, 
some relationships are so bad they defy redemption and must be ended. In 
Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Brother’s Karamazov, there is a terrifying section in 
which Ivan shrieks that he does not want to dwell in a “heaven” in which a 
cruelly murdered child, his mother, and his murderer embrace in a hug of 
cosmic reconciliation. This scene illustrates the assertion by Noddings’s 
critics that there is a final limit on caring. Some things are so evil that they 
must not be forgiven. 

Maternal Ethics and the Ethics of Care 

Despite the critics’ serious reservations about invoking the mother-infant or 
parent-child relationship as the paradigm for caring human relationships, 
care-focused feminists nonetheless continued to claim that the concepts, met- 
aphors, and images associated with such relationships are precisely the ones to 
use. Among these “maternal thinkers” were Sara Ruddick, Virginia Held, and 
Eva Kittay. Interestingly, all three of those thinkers viewed caring not only as 
an other-directed psychological attitude of attentiveness but also as a practice, 
work, or labor. Caring is about having a certain sort of mind-set, but it is also 
about assisting those in need of care. Moreover, another thread that tied Rud- 
dick’s, Held’s, and Kittay’s thought together was their insistence that caring 
practice, work, or labor should be performed in the public domain as well as 
the private realm. 

Sara Ruddick 

Sara Ruddick identified the ways in which mothering is both cultural and bio- 
logical; that is, mothering is an activity that men as well as women can do, even 
though as a result of their historic experiences, women now do it better. Rud- 
dick observed that although biology destines women to bear children, it does 
not destine women to rear them. Nevertheless, because of a complex interaction 
between women’s childbearing capacities on the one hand and patriarchal soci- 
ety’s child-rearing needs on the other, child-rearing became women’s work. As a 
result of this state of affairs, most women, though by no means all women, de- 
veloped what Ruddick termed “maternal practice.” 59 



182 Chapter 5: Care-Focused Feminism 

Ruddick claimed society should not trivialize maternal practice. Like any 
human practice, it requires special abilities and particular ways of thinking 
and acting: “The agents of maternal practice, acting in response to demands 
of their children, acquire a conceptual scheme — a vocabulary and logic of 
connections — through which they order and express the facts and values of 
their practice. . . . There is a unity of reflection, judgment, and emotion. This 
unity I call ‘maternal thinking.’” 60 

Ruddick rejected the notion that maternal thinking is merely an emo- 
tional, irrational display of love that comes naturally to women; instead she 
presented it as a type of learned thought. Like all modes of human thinking, 
maternal thinking has its own logic and interests, specifically, the preserva- 
tion, growth, and acceptability of one’s children. 61 

In some ways, Ruddick’s reflections on maternal practice were similar to 
philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s ideas about human practices in general. 
According to MacIntyre, a practice is a cooperative human activity that has 
its own standards of excellence. These practices include everything from 
professional activities like healing on the one hand, to personal activities 
like parenting (MacIntyre’s substitute for maternal practice) on the other. 

As MacIntyre saw it, no practice can flourish unless its practitioners ac- 
knowledge and strive for the goods and satisfaction that the community 
judges to be essential to the practice. For example, the practice of parenting 
cannot flourish unless parents want to be the best parents possible, that is, 
the kind of parents whom society regards as worthy of parenthood. Com- 
mented MacIntyre: “To enter into a practice is to accept the authority of 
those standards and the inadequacy of my own performance as judged by 
them. It is to subject my own attitudes, choices, preferences and tastes to the 
standards which currently and partially define the practice.” 62 

Within the pursuit of any practice, we discover the good intrinsic to that 
kind of endeavor, said MacIntyre. Concomitantly, once we devote ourselves 
to a practice, we discover and become committed to following the standards 
of excellence that govern it. 

The transformative process of becoming an excellent practitioner of any 
cooperative activity like parenting is, in MacIntyre’s opinion, personally 
demanding. He claimed that if we are thoroughly engaged in a human 
practice, we know how hard it is to do well what we have chosen to do. We 
cannot persevere in this demanding process without the kind of virtues 
that push us forward on the days we would prefer to fall behind: 

We have to learn to recognize what is due to whom; we have to be pre- 
pared to take whatever self-endangering risks are demanded along the 



Maternal Ethics and the Ethics of Care 183 


way; and we have to listen carefully to what we are told about our own 
inadequacies and to reply with the same carefulness for the facts. In 
others words we have to accept as necessary components of any practice 
with internal goods and standards of excellence the virtues of justice, 
courage and honesty. 63 

Unless practitioners are virtuous, insisted MacIntyre, a practice will wither 
and the values internal to it will disappear. 

As necessary as virtuous practitioners are for a practices survival, MacIntyre 
did not claim that they are sufficient. In fact, he maintained that practices and 
their practitioners cannot act alone. They need institutions — that is, economic, 
social, and cultural support systems. 64 Although we tend to identify practices 
like teaching, business, and medicine with institutions like colleges, corpora- 
tions, and hospitals, we should not do so, said MacIntyre. Practices, characteris- 
tically concerned with so-called internal goods like pride in a job well done, are 
held together by the sealing cement of human cooperation. In contrast, institu- 
tions are necessarily concerned with so-called external goods like money, power, 
and status and are energized by the fragmentary fires of human competition. 
Yet, observed MacIntyre, we need not automatically reject institutional support, 
provided that “the ideals and creativity of the practice” do not succumb to “the 
acquisitiveness of the institution” by our accepting such support. 65 It is simply 
too hard for us to eschew institutional support in an ever more complex, inter- 
related, and interdependent world. 

Although Ruddick’s understanding of a practice largely resonated with Mac- 
Intyre’s, she took exception to it on several counts. She denied, for example, that 
the way to achieve the good(s) internal to maternal practice is through compli- 
ance with the accumulated wisdom of humankind — especially if humankind 
turns out to be mankind. For women to submit their own attitudes, choices, 
beliefs, and values about mothering to prevailing norms may be a major mis- 
take, for, as Adrienne Rich noted, our culture conflates the practice of mothering 
with the institution of motherhood. 66 In other words, our culture confuses mater- 
nal practice as described by Ruddick with a set of social norms according to 
which mothers need to be female, heterosexual, totally self-sacrificial, and disin- 
terested in any role outside the home. As an institution, motherhood requires 
mothers to literally live for and through their children. In contrast, as a practice, 
mothering permits maternal thinkers to realize dimensions of themselves in, 
with, and beyond their children. 

Ruddick’s analysis of a practice also differed from MacIntyre’s in that she 
disagreed that honesty, courage, and justice are the three virtues individually 
necessary and jointly sufficient for the flourishing of all human practices. 



184 Chapter 5: Care-Focused Feminism 


Each human practice has its own set of virtues, insisted Ruddick. For exam- 
ple, mothers must cultivate a set of specific virtues (described below), to 
meet the three fundamental goals of maternal practice: namely, the preserva- 
tion, growth, and social acceptability of children. 67 

According to Ruddick, preserving the life of a child is the “constitutive ma- 
ternal act.” 68 Infants are totally vulnerable. They simply will not survive unless 
their caretakers feed, clothe, and shelter them. Ruddick gave the example of 
Julie, an exhausted young mother with a very demanding infant. Having 
reached her physical and psychological limits, Julie pictures herself killing her 
baby daughter. Horrified by her thought, Julie spends the night riding a city 
bus, her baby in her arms. She reasons that, as long as they remain in the public 
eye, her baby will be safe. 69 

Ruddick told Julie’s story to stress how difficult it is for some mothers to 
meet their children’s basic needs. Not every mother grows so run-down and 
desperate that she has to take steps to ensure that she will not kill her child. 
But even under relatively ideal circumstances, most mothers do have days 
when they find mothering too difficult. To preserve their children on these 
bad days, said Ruddick, mothers need to cultivate the intellectual virtue of 
scrutiny and the moral virtues of humility and cheerfulness. 

Mothers who possess the virtue of scrutiny survey their children’s environ- 
ment in a careful but not overly cautious way. They do not manufacture 
nonexistent dangers. Nor do they fail to recognize the real dangers that 
threaten their children. Mothers with scrutinizing eyes know their children 
will not die from a face scratching or knee scraping, but also know their chil- 
dren are too vulnerable to fend for themselves. Although children are not as 
fragile as goldfish, said Ruddick, neither are they as hardy as roaches or 
weeds. 70 Scrutinizing eyes open and shut when they should. 

Closely related to the intellectual virtue of scrutiny, said Ruddick, are the 
moral virtues of humility and cheerfulness, without which mothers cannot 
lovingly preserve their children. Humility, said Ruddick, is a way of “preserv- 
ing and controlling” children in an “exhausting, uncontrollable world.” 71 It 
is the virtue that helps mothers avoid both the excess of dominating a child 
and the defect of passively giving in to a child’s every demand. Humility also 
helps mothers understand they cannot protect their children from every evil. 

Fortunately, the virtue of cheerfulness, defined by Ruddick as “a matter-of- 
fact willingness ... to start and start over again,” keeps mothers humble. 72 A 
humble mother realizes that even if her powers of preservative love are lim- 
ited, they are powers nonetheless. Because the virtue of cheerfulness, like the 
virtue of scrutiny, also has its excesses and defects, mothers need to guard 
against despairing glumness on the one hand and an everything-is-wonderful 



Maternal Ethics and the Ethics of Care 185 


attitude on the other. Mothers should fill their children’s heads neither with 
images of the Big Bad Wolf nor with visions of the Sugar Plum Fairy, but with 
portraits of fallible and imperfect human beings trying to make the best of 
things. Cheerfulness, stressed Ruddick, is indeed riding “the bus up and down 
the nighttime city streets, keeping yourself and your baby safe even though 
you’ve imagined murdering her.” 73 It is knowing there is usually some way to 
cope with a truly bad situation. 

The second dimension of Ruddick’s maternal practice is fostering children’s 
growth. A good mother does not impose an already written script on her chil- 
dren. She does not insist her children meet unrealistic standards of abstract 
perfection. Instead, a good mother tells her children “maternal stories” — that 
is, realistic, compassionate, and “delightful” stories 74 that help her children 
reflect on the persons they have been, are, and might someday be. Faced with 
a stubborn daughter, for example, a mother should help her daughter under- 
stand why stubbornness is a character defect and how the girl could transform 
her stubbornness into the virtue of proper self-determination. A mother 
should help her children grow not only in physical size and mental intelli- 
gence but also in virtue. People become stubborn for reasons. They get tired 
of having to do things other people’s way. Therefore, when they get the 
opportunity to resist, they fight back by digging in their heels and doing 
things their own way, no matter how disastrous the consequences may be. 
Self-awareness of this human tendency can help children understand why a 
modus operandi of perpetual stubbornness does not make good sense, and 
why it may be best to do things other people’s way from time to time. 

The third and final dimension of Ruddick’s maternal practice is training. 
Mothers work hard to socialize their children, to transform them into law- 
abiding citizens who adhere to societal norms. But good mothers do not 
want their children to become mindless “conformists.” Mothers may, for ex- 
ample, refuse to fit their children’s vulnerable bodies into military uniforms, 
or diet them into designer jeans, or dress them for success in the so-called 
dog-eat-dog world. In a patriarchal society — that is, an overly competitive, 
hierarchical, and individualistic society — mothers may find themselves 
caught between the demands of patriarchy on the one hand and their own 
inner conviction that many of these demands are dehumanizing on the 
other. If a mother trains her son to be a “winner,” he may become both the 
chief executive officer of a large firm and a very mean-spirited human being. 
In contrast, if she refuses to teach her son the “ways of the world,” he may 
become both a very nice guy and someone who is labeled a loser. On almost 
a daily basis mothers must decide, said Ruddick, when and when not to let 
their own personal values guide their child-rearing practices. Ruddick added 



186 Chapter 5: Care-Focused Feminism 

that mothers should not make these decisions by themselves; ideally, they 
should make them together with their children. If children adopt their 
mothers’ values unquestioningly, their “training” will never be completed. 75 
External compliance with others’ values is an inadequate substitute for learn- 
ing how to choose one’s own values and living in conformity to them. 

Clearly, maternal practice is a complex activity. Overall, it is guided by 
what Ruddick termed the metavirtue of “attentive love.” This metavirtue, 
which is at once cognitive and affective, rational and emotional, enables 
mothers to “really look” at their children and not be shocked, horrified, or 
appalled by what they see. 76 Indeed, among the several characteristics that 
distinguish maternal thinkers from nonmaternal thinkers is the utter realism 
of maternal thinkers, emphasized Ruddick. A mother who loves her children 
inattentively lets her fantasies blind her. She does not see her children as they 
actually are. Rather she sees her children as they could perhaps be: the fulfill- 
ment of her dreams. In contrast to these mothers, mothers who love their 
children attentively accept their children for who they are, working within 
their physical and psychological limits. 

Ruddick’s ultimate goal was not simply to develop a phenomenology of 
maternal practice. Rather, she wanted to demonstrate that anyone, male or 
female, who engages in maternal practice will come to think like a mother. As 
it so happens, most of the people who have traditionally engaged in maternal 
practice have been women. Because women have been excluded from the 
public realm until relatively recently, maternal thinking has not been preva- 
lent enough in government, medicine, law, business, the church, and the 
academy. Instead, a very nonmaternal kind of thinking has dominated the 
public realm — the kind of thinking that leads to ecological disorder, social 
injustice, and even war, in Ruddick’s estimation. People who do not think like 
mothers, claimed Ruddick, do not see like mothers. They do not make a con- 
nection, for example, between war in the abstract and war in the concrete. For 
them, war is about winning, defending one’s way of life, and maintaining 
one’s position of power. In contrast, for mothers, war is about destroying the 
children they have spent years preserving, nurturing, and training: unique 
human persons who cannot be replaced. In sum, for mothers, war is about 
death — about canceling out the “products” of maternal practice. 

Ruddick did not claim that mothers are absolute pacifists, however. She 
conceded that “maternal peacefulness” 77 is a myth, since mothers do not 
always think and act in maternal ways. The scene in the film The Battle of Al- 
giers that most haunts me, for example, is one in which several Algerian 
women shed their veils in order to dress in the style of French women. They 
then put bombs in their shopping bags, and holding their own children in 



Maternal Ethics and the Ethics of Care 187 


their arms, they escape scrutiny by the French police as they cross from the 
Algerian into the French section of town. After all, they look so harmless — the 
epitome of French motherhood! Ffaving eluded detection, these Algerian 
women then plant their bombs in an open cafe, where large numbers of 
French men, women, and children are drinking espresso and licking ice cream 
cones. The camera focuses on the French children’s happy faces and on the 
Algerian womens stonelike faces. The message is a chilling one: For the cause 
of Algerian liberation, Algerian women must be prepared to kill not only 
adults but also children — specifically, French children, who are no less vulnera- 
ble and precious than their own children. 

Despite scenes like the one I just described and Ruddick’s own concession 
that some mothers will resort to violence if they feel they must, Ruddick’s 
overall claim was that maternal thinking offers “an engaged and visionary 
stand point from which to criticize the destruction of war and begin to invent 
peace.” 78 If mothers look at war through the lens of maternal thinking, they 
will understand that war simply does not make sense. Only peace makes 
sense, and if they care about their children, mothers must unite to make peace 
happen, said Ruddick. 

As a first conceptual-political bridge, linking women and peace, Ruddick 
offered a women’s politics of resistance. 79 When confronted with policies such as 
stockpiling nuclear weapons — policies that threaten to negate their maternal 
activities — women may feel moved to protest, picket, and even riot. Although 
rebellious women sometimes fight alongside sympathetic men, these women 
often fight alone, as women, “invoking their “culture’s symbols of femininity”: 
“Women who bring to the public plazas of a police state pictures of their 
loved ones, like women who put pillowcases, toys, and other artifacts of 
attachment against the barbed wire fences of missile bases, translate the sym- 
bols of mothers into political speech.” 80 

Only thoroughly unsocialized military men will be able to overcome the 
human sentiments that pictures of “mother love” typically evoke, thought 
Ruddick. Women who resist should, if necessary, manipulate men’s emo- 
tions, “woman-handling” men toward peaceful ends. 

Conceding that the word mother evokes for many feminists sentimentality, 
even as the word peacemaker suggests being an accommodator, Ruddick 
nonetheless proposed a feminist politics as a second way to join women and 
peace. A feminist politics supports women fighting against all forms of dis- 
crimination. Feminists work for women’s economic, psychological, and sexual 
liberation, thereby rendering the lives of a// women — including mothers — 
easier. Perhaps most importantly, a feminist politics makes women think 
about the solidarity among women. The resistance of a women’s politics joins 



188 Chapter 5: Care-Focused Feminism 


with the consciousness-raising of a feminist politics to bring women together 
against war, claimed Ruddick. 

Virginia Held 

Approaching maternal practice from a somewhat different perspective than 
Ruddick, Virginia Held maintained that morality is not unitary Rather, said 
Held, there are multiple moral approaches designed to fit certain sets of rela- 
tionships and activities in the public and private realms. Some of these moral 
approaches, closely related to the value of justice, are likely to be of particular 
use in the legal and economic realms. In contrast, other moral approaches are 
tightly linked to the value of care and are likely to be of special help in the 
realms of childcare, healthcare, and education. Held insisted each of these 
two types of moral approaches should be recognized by the other as particu- 
larly valuable in its own sphere of influence and generally necessary in the 
other. Society should recognize that the moral approaches designed to govern 
family disputes are just as socially necessary as the moral approaches fash- 
ioned to negotiate international treaties. 81 

Held’s point about multiple moral approaches merits careful consideration. 
At least in the Western world, moral approaches generated in, from, and for 
private relations have not usually been recognized as fully moral approaches. 
Rather, they have been viewed as merely private matters not warranting seri- 
ous moral scrutiny. Held pointed out that all too often, traditional ethicists 
have assumed that bona fide moral issues take root in one sphere only, the 
public sphere. She claimed this assumption was wrongheaded. Experiences 
need not unfold in a bustling marketplace or a contentious courtroom to 
merit moral analysis. On the contrary, they may just as easily arise in a nursery 
or around the dinner table. In other words, Held maintained that what makes 
an experience worthy of moral analysis is not where it occurs but how it 
occurs. If moral experience is “the experience of consciously choosing, of vol- 
untarily accepting or rejecting, of willingly approving or disapproving, of liv- 
ing with these choices, and above all of acting and of living with these actions 
and their outcomes,” 82 then such an experience can as easily occur in one’s 
bedroom as in one’s office. Therefore, any adequate moral theory must 
address filial, parental, spousal, and friendship relations as well as physician- 
patient, lawyer-client, and seller-buyer relations. In the grand scheme of 
moral concerns, women’s struggles and striving in the private realm count as 
much as do men’s struggles in the public realm. 

Although Held acknowledged that many women spend as much time in 
the public realm as they do in the private domain and that nature does not 



Maternal Ethics and the Ethics of Care 189 


determine women’s morality, she nonetheless claimed that a significant gap 
still exists between women’s and men’s moral experience. Held faulted tradi- 
tional ethics not only for discounting women’s morality but also for present- 
ing men’s morality as human persons’ morality. Were traditional ethics truly 
gender-neutral, said Held, it would not favor paradigms that speak more to 
men’s experience than to women’s. Women’s caring relationships with their 
vulnerable infants, aging parents, ailing siblings, and distraught friends — 
relationships between persons who are not each other’s equals — do not fit the 
model for just transactions between equally informed and equally powerful 
adults. This does not mean, however, that relationships that arise from the 
practice of care are any less moral than relationships that arise from the prac- 
tice of justice. We should not assume, said Held, that how relationships are 
handled in the public realm should be viewed as more fully moral than how 
relationships are managed in the private realm. Nor, continued Held, should 
we believe that the business of the public realm is much more important 
than the business of the private realm. 

Held stressed that traditional ethicists view contractual relations as the pri- 
mary model for human interaction, justifying a human relationship as moral 
to the degree that it serves the separate interests of individual rational contrac- 
tors. Yet life is about more than conflict, competition, and controversy — about 
getting what one wants. It is, as mothering persons know, also about coopera- 
tion, consensus, and community — about meeting other people’s needs. Held 
speculated that were the relationship between a mothering person and a child, 
rather than the relationship between two rational contractors, the paradigm for 
good human relationships, society might look very different: 

Instead of seeing law and government or the economy as the central 
and appropriate determinants of society, an ethic of care might see 
bringing up children and fostering trust between member of the soci- 
ety as the most important concerns of all. Other arrangements might 
then be evaluated in terms of how well or badly they contribute to the 
flourishing of children and the health of social relations that would 
certainly require a radical restructuring of society. Just imagine revers- 
ing the salaries of business executives and child care workers. 83 

Held conceded, however, that the kinds of relationships that exist between 
mothering persons and children can be just as oppressive — indeed, even more 
oppressive — than the relationships that exist between two rational contractors. 
For example, it is sometimes harder to recognize and handle abuses of power in 
a parent-child relationship than in an employer-employee relationship. 84 



190 Chapter 5: Care-Focused Feminism 

Moreover, it takes greater moral skill to address questions of justice and rights 
in the domain of the family than it does in the workplace. One cannot quit a 
family as easily as one quits a job, nor should one, said Held: 

If a father threatens to disown and permanently sever his ties to a daughter 
who refuses to marry the man he has chosen to be her husband, she may 
justifiably see her right to choose her husband as more morally compelling 
than her tie to her father. If a child is a victim of severe violence in his 
home, it will be morally better that he lose his ties to his family than that 
he lose his life. And so on. But these cases of what seem to be the priority 
of justice are as much failures to care as failures to respect justice. The 
threat of the father and the injuries of the child make this evident. Where 
a parent does care well for a child but fails to recognize the child’s right (to 
the extent that these can be separated, which is also questionable), the 
child morally ought to try to resolve the conflict through discussion and 
compromise within the network of family relations rather than breaking 
the relation with the parent altogether. 85 

Like principles, relationships can be evaluated as good, bad, or somewhere 
between good and bad. Relationships that are entirely bad should be quit, 
but relationships that have more good dimensions than bad aspects should 
be given at least a chance to survive. Premature or unreflective severance of 
them is not warranted. 

Unlike some maternal thinkers, Held believed that men as well as women 
can be mothering persons. Just because men cannot bear children does not 
mean that they cannot rear children. Men and women can — indeed should — 
appropriate the moral outlook of caregivers. Leaving caregiving to women 
alone produces boys with personalities “in which the inclination toward com- 
bat is overdeveloped and the capacity to feel for others is stunted.” 86 Because 
bellicose, unfeeling boys usually mature into bellicose, unfeeling men. Held 
claimed that human survival may depend on our ability to reorganize the way 
we parent. For starters, equal parenting, based on men’s and women’s “equal 
respect” for each other’s “equal rights to choose how to live their lives,” should 
become the order of the day. 87 

Held argued that from a child’s point of view, it does not matter who takes 
care of his or her needs, as long as someone does. Parents should sit down, iden- 
tify their child’s needs, and then divide up the duties between themselves. 
Achieving an equitable division of labor is not an easy task, however, since par- 
ents will be tempted to fall back on the traditional gender roles society has im- 
posed on men and women. Although Held did not claim that all gender 



Maternal Ethics and the Ethics of Care 191 


differences in parental tasks are inherently oppressive, she warned that parental 
tasks should not be divided according to the skills a man and woman had when 
they first married, as these may stem from years of sex-role socialization. As 
much as possible, a man and a woman should try to perform the same parental 
tasks, departing from this nontraditional style of parenting only if there are 
“good reasons, and not merely customs and social pressures” for doing so. 88 

Despite Held’s belief that men as well as women can mother, she still indi- 
cated that there may be a qualitative difference between female mothering and 
male mothering. The fact that women can bear children as well as rear children 
may signal that “women are responsible for the existence of new persons in ways 
far more fundamental than are men.” 89 Men are necessary for conception, but 
their control over the future of humankind turns out to be limited. It is women 
who can say a definite yes to life by bringing a pregnancy to term, and it is 
women who can say a definite no to life through the process of abortion. 

By stressing women’s ultimate responsibility for bringing (or not bringing) 
new persons into existence, Held did not intend to negate her previous point 
that fathers and mothers are obligated to rear children. Because men partici- 
pate in the inception of life, they should participate in its maintenance. Never- 
theless, men’s direct role in procreation lasts but a few minutes, whereas 
women’s lasts for nine months or more depending on whether breast-feeding is 
necessary, said Held. The experiences of pregnancy make women especially 
aware of their procreative role. For example, when a pregnant woman eats, she 
can focus on the fact that she is “eating for two.” If she fails to eat a healthy 
diet, both she and the fetus will suffer. Likewise, when a pregnant woman 
finally gives birth, she can say to herself, “Through this pain, I bring life into 
this world.” These kinds of experiences are ones that a man can never have. 

Even though the daily toil of rearing a child for eighteen years or more 
eventually takes a greater toll on a parent than the suffering of giving birth, 
Held asserted that we should not trivialize the birthing act as if it had no ef- 
fect whatsoever on subsequent parent-child relationships. In suggesting that 
biological experiences may differentially influence “the attitudes of the 
mother and father toward the ‘worth’ or ‘value’ of a particular child,” 90 Held 
wanted to explore the relationship between the kind of feelings women and 
men have for their children on the one hand and the kind of obligations the 
adults have to their children on the other. If ethicists assume that “natural” 
male tendencies play a role in determining men’s moral rights and responsibil- 
ities, then the same assumption should apply to “natural” female tendencies: 

Traditional moral theories often suppose it is legitimate for individuals 

to maximize self-interest, or satisfy their preferences, within certain 



192 Chapter 5: Care-Focused Feminism 

constraints based on the equal rights of others. If it can be shown that 
the tendency to want to pursue individual self-interest is a stronger ten- 
dency among men than among women, this would certainly be relevant 
to an evaluation of such a theory. And if it could be shown that a ten- 
dency to value children and a desire to foster the developing capabilities 
of the particular others for whom we care is a stronger tendency among 
women than among men, this too would be relevant in evaluating 
moral theories. 91 

The fact that Gilligan and Noddings shuddered at the biblical account of 
Abraham, who was willing to kill his son Isaac to honor God’s command, 
did not surprise Held. Women who birth children — who preserve, nurture, 
and train them — are not likely to believe that obeying a command, even a 
command of God, is more valuable than preserving the very lives of their 
children. To be sure, from the standpoint of traditional ethics, a mother’s 
refusal to subordinate the concrete life of her child to the abstract commands 
of duty or higher law may indicate her “underdevelopment” as a moral agent. 
Yet, in an age where a blindness to interconnection has led to the destruction 
of the environment and a perilous buildup of the nuclear arsenal, a focus on 
connection rather than individualistic rights may, said Held, offer a higher 
morality without which humankind cannot survive. 92 

The higher morality to which Held referred is an ethics of care. Exploring 
in depth the relationship between care and justice, Held claimed that care is 
the condition of possibility for justice rather than vice versa: “Care is proba- 
bly the most deeply fundamental value. There can be care without justice. 
There has historically been little justice in the family, but care and life have 
gone on without it. There can be no justice without care, however, for with- 
out care no child would survive and there would be no persons to respect.” 93 
So important is care to our world, said Held, that we must, as a society, 
cultivate the emotions necessary for its practice. Emotions, particularly 
sensitivity to the feelings of others, are essential to the practice of care. 
They are part of what makes a relationship good in a particular situation. 
Held noted that going through the motions of a caring activity “without 
any of the appropriate feelings” is not actually engaging in the practice of 
care. People who “are thoroughly unaware of what others are feeling and 
thinking, and grossly unable to read the moods and intentions of others” 
cannot truly care, said Held. They must be taught to care. Thus, it is not 
enough for schools to develop students’ rational capacities — their powers 
of critical thinking. Schools must also develop students’ emotional capaci- 
ties — their powers of sympathy empathy and imagination. 94 



Maternal Ethics and the Ethics of Care 193 


Eva Feder Kittay 

One of the latest additions to the ranks of care-focused feminists who focus on 
the mother-child and similar relationships is Eva Feder Kittay. She described 
herself as among those feminist thinkers who “have begun to formulate a 
moral theory and a politics grounded in the maternal relation, the paradigm of 
a relation of care.” 95 Yet, because Kittay did not want to be accused of bolster- 
ing either the essentialist view that women are by nature mothers or the myth- 
ical view that all mothers are good mothers, she used the terms “dependency 
relations” and “dependency workers” instead of “maternal relations” and 
“mothers” in her work. 

For Kittay, the paradigm dependency worker is a close relative or friend 
who assumes daily responsibility for a dependent’s survival. A dependency 
worker can be either male or female, according to Kittay, but because of a 
variety of socioeconomic, cultural, and biological factors, most societies 
have assigned dependency work to their female members. Kittay theorized 
that the dependency worker’s labor is characterized by intimate and caring 
connections to the dependent. She also speculated that typically, the de- 
pendency worker suffers negative personal or professional consequences, 
or both, as a result of doing the essential work she or he does. 

Closely related to the paradigm case of a dependency worker, said Kittay, is 
the worker who is paid, often quite modestly, to care for an unrelated person, 
but who views her job as much more than a mere job. Kittay provided an exam- 
ple of such a dependency worker from her own life: namely, Peggy, the woman 
who has cared for her severely developmentally disabled daughter, Sesha, for 
over a quarter of a century and to whom Kittay has distributed many of her 
motherly tasks. Without Peggy’s help, said Kittay, Sesha would not have done 
nearly as well as she has, and Kittay and her husband would not have done 
nearly so well in their professional careers. On the contrary, most of their ener- 
gies, particularly Kittay’s, would have been devoted to caring for Sesha. 96 

Unlike the subject of traditional equality theory, Kittay’s dependency 
worker is not an independent, self-interested, and fully autonomous agent. 
On the contrary, she is, in Kittay’s estimation, a transparent self, that is, “a 
self through whom the needs of another are discerned, a self that, when it 
looks to its own needs, it first sees the needs of another.” 97 As Kittay saw it, 
to the degree that the dependent needs the help of the dependency worker, 
to that degree is the dependency worker obligated to the dependent. 

Kittay’s explanation for the dependency worker’s obligations to the de- 
pendent resembled the one Robert Goodin offered in his book, Protecting 
the Vulnerable , 98 According to Goodin, “the moral basis of special relations 



194 Chapter 5: Care-Focused Feminism 

between individuals arises from the vulnerability of one party to the actions 
of another.” 99 For example, a mother has an obligation to care for her infant 
because she is “ the individual best situated, or exclusively situated to meet 
the needs of the dependent.” 100 The source of a mother’s moral obligation 
to her infant is not in the rights of the dependent as a person, but rather in 
the relationship that exists between one in need and one who is situated to 
meet the need. The defining characteristic of this largely socially con- 
structed relationship is that it is not usually chosen but already given in the 
ties of family, the dynamics of friendship, or the obligations of employment. 

The fact that a relationship is given to the dependency worker, however, 
does not mean that the dependency worker is necessarily wrong to break the 
relationship. Kittay disagreed with Goodin when he refused to absolve a 
slave from his “obligations” to a master who becomes so ill that he cannot 
survive without the slave’s help. The master’s fragile condition is the slave’s 
one chance for freedom. Is the slave obligated to stay and take care of his 
master, who will most likely die if left unattended? Goodin argued yes. As he 
saw it, if a vulnerability arises in a relationship, the moral worth of the rela- 
tionship is not relevant to the existence of the obligation. 101 Kittay argued 
no. As she saw it, the relationship that was given to the slave was a “relation- 
ship” that society should not have constructed. The relationship’s coercive- 
ness cancels out the obligations that human vulnerability ordinarily creates. 

Interestingly, Kittay believed that others’ obligations to dependency workers 
are at least as weighty as dependency workers’ obligations to their dependents. 
Her rationale for this claim was rooted in the image of her mother, who used 
to sit down to dinner after serving her and her father and proclaim, “After all, 
I’m also a mother’s child.” 102 Kittay claimed that embedded in this statement is 
the fundamental source of human equality. Dependency workers and depend- 
ents exist together in a “nested set of reciprocal relations and obligations.” 103 
This web of human connections is governed by a principle Kittay termed 
“doulia,” from the Spanish term for a postpartum caregiver (a doula) who cares 
for the mother so that the mother can care for her infant. Thus, because every- 
one is some mother’s child, it is only fair that someone should take care of 
dependency workers. For society to do anything less than this for dependency 
workers is not only to wrong dependency workers and their dependents, but 
also to weaken the entire fabric that binds a people together. 

For Kittay, a theory of justice that is not infused with a theory of care will 
never produce equality. People in John Rawls’s hypothetical world subscribe 
to two principles of justice. The first principle claims that each person is to 
have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties 
compatible with a similar system of liberty for all. The second principle argues 



Conclusion 195 


that social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both 
(a) to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged, and (b) attached to offices 
and positions open to all under conditions of fair and equal opportunity. 104 
But people in Kittay’s actual world subscribe to more than these two princi- 
ples of justice. They also call for a third principle of social responsibility for 
care that Kittay articulates as follows: “To each according to his or her need 
for care, from each according to his or her capacity for care, and such support 
from social institutions as to make available resources and opportunities to 
those providing care, so that all be adequately attended in relations that are 
sustaining.” 105 

Conclusion 

Although care-focused feminists have been faulted for being too focused 
on personal, particularly familial relationships, in fact most care-focused 
feminists have been quite attentive to professional and public concerns. 
Both Gilligan and Noddings made strong efforts to demonstrate the rele- 
vance of care-focused feminism for education at the primary, secondary, 
and postsecondary levels. Gilligan stressed that a “central dilemma for 
American education [is] how to encourage human responsiveness within 
the framework of a competitive, individualistic culture.” 106 As she saw it, 
unless educators cultivate their students’ empathetic skills as well as their 
reasoning skills, their students may do more harm than good. Physicians, 
lawyers, and businesspeople, who focus on fighting diseases, winning cases, 
and increasing profits respectively, may not notice the people they harm 
along the way to “victory.” 

Adding to Gilligan’s points, Noddings insisted educators must teach citi- 
zens how to be globally aware. As she saw it, global citizens care about eco- 
nomic and social justice, protecting the earth, social and cultural diversity, 
and maintaining world peace. But, said Noddings, it is difficult to teach 
global citizenship in nations that want to maintain their dominance in the 
world. 107 One of Noddings’s colleagues, Peggy McIntosh, claimed that many 
U.S. educators are remarkably ambivalent about helping students develop 
their caregiving skills. These educators see compassionate values as somehow 
threatening the supposed “manliness” that maintains U.S. world power, said 
McIntosh: 

The myths of oppositeness and of male superiority require that males be 

protected from developing attitudes that have been projected onto 

women. These attributes are seen to undermine, and even to contaminate, 



196 Chapter 5: Care-Focused Feminism 

masculinity. Males, especially young males, may have strong competencies 
in the caring, the relationality, and plural seeing that ... are essential for 
global citizenship. What is rewarded in them, however, is solo risk-taking 
and individualism, and if they are white male, a go-it-alone and “damn- 
the-torpedoes” kind of bravery without a balanced regard for, or awareness 
of, the outcomes for other people of one’s behaviors. 108 

No wonder it is difficult to educate for global citizenship, said Noddings. 
For example, U.S. teachers who invite students to consider how the war in 
Iraq hurts Iraqis may be viewed as unpatriotic or “left loonies,” whose insis- 
tence on caring for all the world’s people challenges the American way of 
life — a way of life based on the values that have been associated with “white 
male individualism.” 109 And yet, continued Noddings, unless teachers have 
the courage to teach the practice of care to their male as well as female stu- 
dents, U.S. global awareness will never amount to much. U.S. global policy 
will amount to no more than temporary disaster relief in the aftermath of a 
tsunami or the height of a pandemic: a “charity fix” that masks the fact that 
were it not for a chance event, U.S. society probably would not give a thought 
to the people upon whom it has decided to lavish temporary attention. 

For Gilligan and Noddings, education serves as the conduit from the private 
realm into the public realm. It is the means by which the ethics of care is 
exported into the public realm. As these two thinkers saw it, the ethics of care 
should be the primary ethics used in the professional and public realms. Inter- 
estingly, their views on the importance of world peace and general nonviolence 
within all societies dovetailed well with those of Ruddick explicated above. 
Gilligan, Noddings, and Ruddick hypothesized that the reason there is so 
much violence in the world, including the horror of war, is that there is so little 
care in the world. As Ruddick saw it, maternal thinkers have an obligation to 
become peace activists. They also have an obligation to become advocates for 
social justice and a sustainable economy. In other words, maternal thinkers 
have to enter the public and professional domain in order to shape policies, 
institutions, and laws that will permit all children and not just their own chil- 
dren to flourish. Maternal thinkers cannot afford to stay at home. Their ethics 
of care must explode into the professional and public domain. 

Further specifying Ruddick’s, Gilligan’s, and Noddings’s views on the 
public face of care, Held argued that market norms — the norms of efficiency 
and productivity — must not be allowed to have priority in education, child- 
care, health care, culture, and environmental protection. She also argued that 
even realms such as business, where “the individual pursuit of self-interest 
and the maximization of individual satisfactions are morally permissible,” 



Conclusion 197 


need to “be guided much more than at present by the concerns of care.” 110 
Somewhat of a realist, however, Held stated that the first task for care 
thinkers is to resist the expansion of market values into realms where, until 
recently, these values were considered entirely inappropriate. For example, 
care thinkers should resist markets in human organs and human gametes 
(eggs and sperms), as if body parts capable of saving or improving human 
lives are just commodities worth only as much as the market is prepared to 
pay for them. Success in resisting the encroachment of market values into 
areas of human life in which they have traditionally not held sway may later 
motivate care thinkers to more forcefully push care into realms in which 
market norms have traditionally been accepted, speculated Held: 

We should not preclude the possibility that economies and corporations 
themselves could be guided much more than at present by the concerns of 
care. Economies could produce what people really need in ways that contrib- 
ute to human flourishing. But long before an economy itself is influenced by 
the values of caring, persons for whom care is a central value can and should 
affect the reach of the market. 

As a society we ought to be trying to shrink rather than to expand the mar- 
ket, so that other values than market ones can flourish. As we care for our chil- 
dren and their futures, we can become aware of the many values other than 
market ones we should try to encourage them to appreciate and to need. And 
we can argue for the kinds of social and economic and other arrangements 
that will reflect and promote these values. 111 

Clearly, Held did not confine the ethics of care to the private realm. But 
she wanted first to strengthen care thinking in the private domain so as to 
have enough men as well as women available to push it full force into a pub- 
lic realm traditionally resistant to it. 

Somewhat bolder in her ambitions for an ethics of care, Kittay insisted 
that society should realize that dependency, the need to care for others, and 
the need for care for oneself are inescapable parts of the human condition. 
Theories of justice that are predicated on the myth and value of human inde- 
pendence are likely to result in institutions, practices, and policies that make 
it difficult or nearly impossible for people to care for each other. Kittay gave 
the example of the U.S. Personal Responsibility Act of 1996, the goal of 
which was to motivate (compel) indigent mothers to stop relying on govern- 
ment assistance for their families. Poor women were given only a set amount 
of time during which they would be eligible for federal funding of their fam- 
ilies’ basic needs (food, clothing, shelter, and the like). By the end of this 



198 Chapter 5: Care-Focused Feminism 


time, the women in question were expected to have found some sort of job 
to support themselves and their families. Absent from this legislation was any 
acknowledgment that as soon as a poor woman without a spouse or another 
adult partner went to work outside her home, there would be no one left 
behind to take care of her children. Unless she could find affordable child- 
care for her children, the poor woman might be tempted to let her children 
fend for themselves during her hours away at work. 112 

Kittay contrasted the Personal Responsibility Act of 1 996, which, as we 
just noted, made it very hard for single poor mothers in particular to care for 
their children, with the U.S. Medical Leave Act of 1993. Kittay noted that, 
whatever its limits, the 1993 act at least acknowledged the importance of 
care work. The centerpiece of this act was the provision of unpaid work leave 
to care for a newborn, a newly adopted child, or an ailing family member for 
a specified amount of time. 113 

Sadly, the 1 993 act has not been equally recognized by employers. As a result 
of ignoring either the letter or the spirit of the act, many employers have met 
with workers’ resistance. Since 1995, about 1,150 lawsuits have been filed in 
courts. The ground for these suits is the “supposed mistreatment [of workers] 
on account of family responsibilities — becoming pregnant, needing to care for a 
sick child or relative.” 114 Relying on laws such as Tide VII of the 1964 Civil 
Rights Act, which prohibits “not only overt sex discrimination but also seem- 
ingly neutral policies that have a disparate impact on women,” 115 and the 1990 
Americans with Disabilities Act, which has been increasingly interpreted to 
cover people who care for people with disabilities as well as people with disabili- 
ties per se, lawyers have won about half of these suits. Employers have been put 
on guard that public sentiment in favor of making the workplace a hospitable 
one for caregivers is very strong. 

Not only female workers but also male workers want time off work to care 
for ailing family members. For example, a former Maryland state trooper was 
the first plaintiff to win significant damages in a sex-discrimination suit that 
relied on the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act. The trooper wanted to take 
four to eight weeks off work — time to which he was entitled per the 1 993 
act — to care for his wife, whose health had been seriously compromised by a 
very difficult pregnancy. He was told by his superiors to limit his stay-at-home 
time to two weeks. They could not afford for him to be gone for any longer. 
Later, after his wife delivered the baby, the trooper requested thirty days off to 
help his wife recuperate from the difficult pregnancy and birth. Although 
Maryland law provides thirty days’ unpaid leave to primary caregivers, the 
trooper’s employer denied his request. The personnel manager told the 
trooper that “unless your wife is in a coma or dead, you can’t be primary care 



Conclusion 199 


provider.” He was also told “that God made women to have babies.” 116 These 
sexist remarks came back to haunt the employer. They played a major role in 
the trooper’s winning $375,000 in damages (which were later reduced to 
$40,000). 

As families struggle to combine their personal and professional lives, and as 
workers from all classes of society start to press their employers to make it eas- 
ier for them to balance work and personal responsibilities, more space is being 
carved out for care in the public domain. Although a proliferation of lawsuits 
is not the ideal way to get employers to transform their workplaces into care- 
friendly environments, it is still a way to get governments to pass care-friendly 
laws, laws that help curb the market forces of which Held spoke. For example, 
as noted by New York Times reporter Eyal Press: “In Sweden, parents have the 
right to work a six-hour day until their children turn 8, at a prorated 
salary.” 117 Even though Sweden’s policy and other policies mandating lengthy, 
paid caregiving leave may constitute a “drag on” an economy, such policies are 
increasingly the rule in many European nations that have, it would seem, rec- 
ognized that care is not stricdy a private matter. 

Clearly, as we have just noted, it is possible to bring care full force into the 
public domain. In this connection, Fiona Robinson argued that if we focus 
on making care present in the public realm, there is no reason why the ethics 
of care cannot be “globalized.” Confronted by the horror of world poverty, 
Robinson claimed that we need a feminist ethics of care, concrete and spe- 
cific enough, to help privileged people see how their richness makes liars of 
them if they engage in rights talk without engaging in care action. Robinson 
conceded that “those who would prefer to cling to the familiar language of 
rights and duties, justice and reciprocity, and the apparent certainty offered 
to us by the kind of ethics which tells us what to do’ and gives us universal 
standards by which to judge the justice or injustice of all forms of human 
activity,” may not find a feminist ethics of care attractive. 118 These critics, she 
noted, will very likely continue to dismiss or misunderstand the idea of care 
“as sentimental, nepotistic, relativistic, paternalistic, and even dangerous.” 119 
But the fact that critics may snub the ethics of care is not an argument for 
care-focused feminists to abandon hope of globalizing an ethics of care, said 
Robinson. Rather, it is a reason for care-focused feminists to push even 
harder to develop a particularly demanding ethics: an ethics that requires all 
people and nations to do their fair share of care work so that all of the world’s 
inhabitants can lead lives worth living. 



6 


Multicultural, Global, 
and Postcolonial Feminism 


Multicultural, global, and postcolonial feminists push feminist thought in 
the direction of both recognizing women’s diversity and acknowledging the 
challenges it presents. Not all women think and act alike; nor do all women 
value the same things or aim for the same goals. In short, women are differ- 
ent from each other. For this reason, multicultural, global, and postcolonial 
feminists challenge female essentialism, the view that the idea of “woman” 
exists as some sort of Platonic form each flesh-and-blood woman must some- 
how embody. In addition, they disavow female chauvinism, the tendency of 
some women, particularly privileged women, to speak on behalf of all 
women, including women they regard as “other” than themselves. 1 

Yet for all the similarities that link multicultural, global, and postcolo- 
nial feminists, these thinkers do have their differences. Multicultural femi- 
nists focus on the basic insight that even in one nation — the United States, 
for instance — all women are not created or constructed equal. Depending 
on her race and ethnicity but also on her sexual identity, gender identity, 
age, religion, level of education, occupation or profession, marital status, 
health condition, and so on, each U.S. woman will experience her identity 
and status as a woman differently. Expanding on multicultural feminists’ 
basic insight, global and postcolonial feminists stress that depending on 
whether she is a member of a First World/developed/Northern/Western 
nation or instead a Third World/ developing/ Southern/Eastern nation, each 
woman in the world will be positively or negatively affected in significant 
ways. Moreover, women living in Eastern/Southern nations that were pre- 
viously colonized by Western/Northern nations may have particularly 


200 




Multicultural Feminism: General Reflections 201 


complex identities. They may feel a special urgency either to reappropriate 
their people’s precolonial traditions or to resist them with even greater 
force than their colonizers did. 

Multicultural Feminism: General Reflections 

Because my experiences are those of a woman living in the United States, it is 
not surprising that I have chosen the United States as the site to discuss multi- 
cultural feminism as it appears within the confines of a single nation’s bound- 
aries. Although some nations have fairly homogeneous populations, very few 
of them have populations as homogeneous as the population of Iceland, for 
example. In Iceland, marriage with non-Icelanders is extremely rare and most 
families can trace their genetic heritage back multiple generations to a small 
cluster of original Icelandic families. In contrast to Iceland, most other na- 
tions are multicultural and interracial. Within their historically constructed 
boundaries is a wide variety of peoples, some of whom are there as a result of 
migration, immigration, forced resettlement, territory seizure, or enslavement 
and any of whom may have intermarried. Among these multicultural nations 
is the United States. 

To appreciate the significance of U.S. multicultural feminism, it is im- 
portant to understand the reasons for its emergence and rapid ascendancy. 
As we noted in earlier chapters, throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, 
U.S. feminists focused mainly on the gender differences between men and 
women. Most of these second-wave U.S. feminists, particularly the radical 
cultural feminists and care-focused feminists among them, stressed the de- 
gree to which, in the West, qualities such as autonomy, rationality, physi- 
cal strength, and fairness or justice are associated with “masculinity,” 
whereas qualities such as connectedness to others, emotionality, physical 
weakness, and caring were associated with “femininity.” These thinkers 
also debated the extent to which these traits are biological givens or social 
constructions, and whether masculine traits are better than feminine 
traits, or vice versa. 

Some second-wave U.S. feminists, termed sameness feminists, tried to 
prove that women had the same intellectual, physical, and moral capacities as 
men, and that if women were given the same educational and occupational op- 
portunities men had, women could be men’s full equals. Like men, women 
could be chief executive officers of large corporations, army generals, neurosur- 
geons, and football players. For sameness feminists, the primary enemy of 
women was sexism — the view that women are unable to do what men do and 
are appropriately relegated to the domestic sphere. Other second-wave U.S. 



202 Chapter 6: Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism 


feminists, termed difference feminists, countered that it was a mistake for 
women to try to be like men, because women’s ways of knowing, doing, and 
being were just as good as, if not better than, men’s. For difference feminists, 
the primary enemy was androcentrism — the view that men are the norm for all 
human beings and that women, because they are not like men, are not fully 
human. 2 

Importantly, the 1960s- 1970s debate between sameness and difference 
feminists never reached resolution. By the mid-1980s, feminists had moved 
on to other matters. Marginalized women, particularly women of color and 
lesbians but also poor, uneducated, and immigrant women, complained that 
the kind of gender-focused feminism that held sway in the academy was not a 
feminism for all women. Rather, it was a feminism for a certain group of elite 
women, namely, white, heterosexual, middle-class, well-educated women. 
These critics of mainstream feminism said that gender is neither the only nor 
necessarily the main cause of many women’s oppression. For example, just be- 
cause college-educated homemakers in suburbia may seek release from their 
domestic duties so they can get jobs in corporate America does not mean that 
female assembly-line workers do not yearn to be stay-at-home wives and 
mothers. More generally, just because some women find that matters related 
to their sexuality and reproductive capacities and responsibilities play the 
greatest role in their oppression does not mean that all women find this to be 
the case. For some women, it is not sexism, but racism, ethnocentrism, class- 
ism, heterosexism, ableism, or ageism that may be the major contributor(s) to 
their low status. 

Roots of Multicultural Feminism in the United States 

Repentant about mainstream feminism’s relative neglect of women’s differ- 
ences and its failure to push marginalized women’s concerns to the forefront 
of its agenda, U.S. feminists, the majority of whom were admittedly advan- 
taged in one or more ways, determined to reorder their priorities. Thus was 
bom multicultural feminism, a variety of feminist thought that was rapidly 
linked to so-called women-of-color feminism in the United States. 

To some extent, multicultural feminist thought is related to multicultural 
thought in general, that is, to a late-twentieth-century ideology that both 
acknowledged and affirmed that nations like the United States are com- 
posed of multiple groups of races and ethnicities. Interestingly, earlier ide- 
ologies prevalent in the United States largely rejected the notion of a 
multicultural society. They maintained that not diversity but unity was the 
goal of U.S. society. According to historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., early 



Roots of Multicultural Feminism in the United States 203 

immigrants to the United States wanted to become a new people. For the 
most part, they did not want to maintain their ethnic identities. On the 
contrary, said Schlesinger, they “ expected to become Americans. Their goals 
were escape, deliverance, assimilation. They saw America as a transforming 
nation, banishing old loyalties and forging a new national identity based on 
common political ideals.” 3 

Immigrants’ desire to be “Americanized” continued during the nineteenth 
century and into the first half of the twentieth century. Indeed, until the end 
of World War II, the majority of immigrants to the United States willingly 
jumped into Americas so-called melting pot, first described by Israel Zangwill 
in a 1 909 play: 

There she lies, the great melting pot — listen! Can’t you hear the roaring 
and the bubbling? There gapes her mouth — The harbor where a thou- 
sand feeders come from the ends of the world to pour in their human 
freight. Ah, what a stirring and a seething! Celt and Latin, Slav and 
Teuton, Greek and Syrian, — black and yellow — . . . East and West, 
North and South, the palm and the pine, the pole and the equator, the 
crescent and the cross — how the Great Alchemist melts and fuses them 
with his purging flame! Here shall they all unite to build the Republic 
of man and the Kingdom of God. . . . Peace, peace, to all you unborn 
millions, fated to fill this giant continent. 4 

But, for a variety of reasons, by the 1970s new waves of immigrants began 
to criticize the Great Alchemist’s work. A new one-divided-into-many gospel 
gradually replaced the old many-united-into-one gospel. Schlesinger claimed 
this new gospel rejected the “vision of individuals of all nations melted into a 
new race.” 5 Instead, it favored an opposite vision: a nation of groups, highly 
visible in their diverse ancestries and distinct identities. Assimilation gave 
way to a celebration of ethnicity in the 1970s, as “salad bowl” and “quilt” 
metaphors for the United States increasingly displaced the “melting-pot” 
metaphor. 6 Multiculturalism, generally defined as a “social-intellectual 
movement that promotes the value of diversity as a core principle and insists 
that all cultural groups be treated with respect and as equal,” was born. 7 Di- 
versity, not unity, became the immigrants’ mantra. 

For several years the multicultural movement progressed without much 
opposition. But during the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, the move- 
ment started to meet with opposition. Of all the arguments raised against 
multiculturalism, those focusing on its tendency to undermine social soli- 
darity were the strongest. For example, Joseph Raz, himself a supporter of 



204 Chapter 6: Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism 

multiculturalism, conceded to his critics: “Without a deep feeling of solidar- 
ity, a political society will disintegrate into quarreling factions. Solidarity is 
required if people are to feel concerned about each other’s fortunes and to be 
willing to make sacrifices for other people. Without such willingness the pos- 
sibility of a peaceful political society disappears.” 8 Critics of multiculturalism 
insisted labels such as African American, Asian American, Latin/Hispanic 
American, and Native American were divisive. These critics longed for the old 
melting pot and “American Americans.” 

Defenders of multiculturalism claimed that “we should learn to think of 
our [society] as consisting not of a majority and minorities but of a plural- 
ity of cultural groups.” 9 We do not all have to look, act, speak, and think 
alike to be American, they said. Instead, we need to cultivate mutual toler- 
ance, respect, and knowledge of each other’s cultures and to make sure we 
all possess the skills and rights necessary to compete in the economic mar- 
ket and the political arena. 10 An “all-American kid” need not have blue 
eyes, blond hair, and white skin. Nor need he or she play baseball and love 
apple pie. On the contrary, an all-American kid may have yellow skin, 
brown eyes, and black hair. Moreover, he or she may play chess and love 
Peking/Beijing Duck. 

Interlocking Sources of Women’s Oppression 

Multicultural feminists applaud the new emphasis on people’s differences, 
regretting that second-wave feminist theorists largely ignored women’s 
differences. 11 As noted above, many second-wave feminists wrote as if all 
women were white, middle-class, heterosexual, and well educated. In 
Inessential Woman: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist Thought, Elizabeth 
Spelman explained the reasons for this puzzling failure. She said many 
feminist theorists, particularly liberal feminists, went down the wrong 
path. In their desire to prove that women are men’s full equals, they 
stressed women’s sameness to each other as well as women’s sameness to 
men. These theorists, said Spelman, failed to realize that it is possible to 
oppress people both by ignoring their differences and by denying their 
similarities: 

The assertion of differences among women can operate oppressively if 
one marks the differences and then suggests that one of the groups so 
differentiated is more important or more human or in some sense better 
than the other. But on the other hand, to stress the unity of women is 
no guarantee against hierarchical ranking, if what one says is true or 



Interlocking Sources of Womens Oppression 205 


characteristic of some as a class is only true or characteristic of some 
women: for then women who cannot be so characterized are in effect 
not counted as women. When Stanton said that women should get the 
vote before Africans, Chinese, Germans, and Irish, she obviously was 
relying on a concept of “woman” that blinded her to the “womanness” 
of many women. 12 

Spelman urged contemporary feminist theorists to resist the impulse to 
gloss over women’s differences, as if there exists some sort of universal 
“woman” into whom all of women’s autobiographical differences flow and 
dissolve. In particular, she asked them not to make the mistake historian 
Kenneth Stampp made when he asserted “that innately Negroes are, after all, 
only white men with black skins, nothing more, nothing else.” 13 Why, asked 
Spelman, is it that Negroes are only white men with black skins, nothing 
more, nothing else? Why is it not instead that Caucasians are only black men 
with white skins, nothing more, nothing else? If a white man can imagine 
himself protesting his reduction to a black man with white skin, why does he 
have trouble imagining a black man protesting his reduction to a white man 
with black skin? Could it be that whites still think “white” is definitely the 
best way to be, that is, that white people are somehow the gold standard for 
all people? 

Noting there are many well-intentioned “Stampps” within the ranks of 
liberal feminists in particular, Spelman observed: 

If, like Stampp, I believe that the woman in every woman is a woman 
just like me, and if I also assume that there is no difference between 
being white and being a woman, then seeing another woman “as a 
woman” will involve seeing her as fundamentally like the woman I am. 

In other words, the womanness underneath the Black woman’s skin is a 
white woman’s, and deep down inside the Latino woman is an Anglo 
woman waiting to burst through a cultural shroud. 14 

No wonder, said Spelman, that so many women of color reject feminist 
thought. They regard it as white women’s way of thinking. For this very rea- 
son, stressed Spelman, feminist thought must take the differences among 
women seriously; it cannot claim all women are “just like me.” 

Audre Lorde, bell hooks, and Patricia Hill Collins were among the 
first U.S. feminists who took the lead in highlighting women’s differ- 
ences. To a greater or lesser extent, each of these feminist thinkers probed 
the complex identity of so-called women of color and other minority 



206 Chapter 6: Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism 


women in the United States, discussing in particular their “multiple jeop- 
ardy.” 15 Focusing on African American/black women in particular, bell 
hooks claimed in no uncertain terms that racism, sexism, and classism 
are not separable in fact, even if they are separable in theory. None of 
these forms of oppression can be eliminated before the elimination of 
any other. 16 Oppression is a many-headed beast capable of regenerating 
any one of the heads temporarily severed from its bloated body. The 
whole body of the beast is the appropriate target for those who wish to 
end oppression’s reign of terror. 

Among the many calls hooks issued to black women were calls to resist 
“White supremacy’s” negative sexual stereotypes of black females’ bodies. 
She claimed that white racists who viewed black women as sexually 
promiscuous animals caused large numbers of black women to react in 
one of two extreme ways. Some black women became overly modest 
prudes, obsessed with matters of bodily cleanliness and purity. In con- 
trast, other black women decided to capitalize on their supposed “sexi- 
ness.” Some black women, hooks commented, “who may have believed 
themselves to be always the losers in a world of sexist feminine competi- 
tion based on beauty could see the realm of the sexual as the place where 
they [could] triumph over white females.” 17 She urged black women to 
expunge from their minds white racists’ negative images of them. Unless 
black women and, for that matter, black men stop internalizing their 
oppressors’ negative view of them, stressed hooks, they will not be free to 
esteem themselves, that is, to be proud of themselves and joyous about 
their “blackness.” 

In a style as direct as bell hooks’s style, Audre Lorde noted that “as a forty- 
nine-year-old Black lesbian feminist socialist, mother of two, including one 
boy, and a member of an interracial couple,” she understood the concept of 
multiple jeopardy all too well, since she usually found herself a member of 
some group “defined as other, deviant, inferior, or just plain wrong.” The 
way to overcome one’s marginalization, said Lorde, is not “to pluck out some 
one aspect of [oneself] and present this as [a] meaningful whole,” as if one 
can become a “first-class” member of society simply by fighting racism or sex- 
ism or classism or homophobia or ableism. 18 (Lorde experienced even more 
alienation subsequent to a mastectomy.) 19 Rather, the way to overcome one’s 
marginalization is to “integrate all the parts of who I am, openly, allowing 
power from particular sources of my living to flow back and forth freely 
through all my different selves, without the restrictions of externally imposed 
definition.” 20 Lorde fought simultaneously against all forms of oppression, 
including “that piece of the oppressor” within herself. 21 Her priority was to 



Conceptual Challenges for Multicultural Feminism 207 


create a society in which everyone is truly equal and where “different” does 
not mean “inferior” but instead “unique.” 

Furthering the thought of hooks and Lorde, Patricia Hill Collins wrote 
that in the United States, black women’s oppression is systematized and 
structured along three interdependent dimensions. First, the economic di- 
mension of black women’s oppression relegates black women to “ghettoiza- 
tion in service occupations.” 22 Second, the political dimension denies black 
women the rights and privileges routinely extended to all white men and 
many white women, including the very important right to an equal educa- 
tion. Third, the ideological dimension imposes a freedom-restricting set of 
“controlling images” on black women, serving to justify as well as explain 
white men’s and white women’s treatment of black women. Reiterating 
some of hooks’s observations, Collins commented that “from the mam- 
mies, Jezebels, and breeder women of slavery to the smiling Aunt Jemimas 
on pancake mix boxes, ubiquitous Black prostitutes, and ever-present wel- 
fare mothers of contemporary popular culture, the nexus of negative 
stereotypical images applied to African-American women has been funda- 
mental to Black women’s oppression.” 23 Collins theorized the ideological 
dimension was more powerful in maintaining black women’s oppression 
than either the economic or political dimension. She emphasized that 
“race, class, and gender oppression could not continue without powerful 
ideological justification for their existence.” 24 For this very reason, Collins 
urged black feminists to release themselves from demeaning and degrading 
white stereotypes about them. 

Conceptual Challenges for Multicultural Feminism 

Although hooks, Lorde, and Collins happened to be African American/black 
feminists, their thoughts about the multiple sources of oppression of women 
of color were voiced with equal strength by Latin American/Hispanic femi- 
nists (Gloria Anzaldua, Cherrie Moraga, Ofelia Shutte, Maria Lugones), 
Asian American feminists (Elaine Kim, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Ronald Takaki), 
and Native American feminists (Anne Waters, Bonita Lawrence, Donna 
Hightower Langston). 25 Initially, these so-called women of color sought their 
liberation in their color — in the fact that their skin color was not white. But 
later, they began to wonder whether the term “women of color” was really a 
term of liberation or whether it was, at root, a disguised term of oppression. 

One problem some multicultural feminists noted about the concept 
of women of color was its oppositional nature. They worried that women of 
noncolor (i.e. , women who look white) were the point of reference for 



208 Chapter 6: Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism 

women of color (i.e., women who look black, yellow, or red phenotypi- 
cally). 26 In other words, the theorists feared that, in using the term “women 
of color” to refer to themselves, women who were African American, Latin 
American/Hispanic, Asian American, and Native American might “other” 
themselves and “self” white women. 

Among the multicultural feminists who insisted her color did not make 
her the “Other” was Maria Lugones. Referring to Latin American women as 
Hispanic women, and writing from the vantage point of an Argentinean 
woman who has lived in the United States for years, Lugones explained the 
difference for the respective referents of the terms “we” (i.e., other Hispanic 
women) and “you” (i.e., white/Anglo women) in some of her writings. She 
claimed that although Hispanic women in the United States have to partic- 
ipate in the Anglo world, Anglo women in the United States do not have to 
participate in the Hispanic world. An Anglo woman can go to a Hispanic 
neighborhood for a church festival, for example, and if she finds the rituals 
and music overwhelming, she can simply get in her car, drive home, and 
forget the evening. There is no way, however, that a Hispanic woman can 
escape Anglo culture so easily, for the dominant white culture sets the basic 
parameters for her survival as one of its minority members. It is the His- 
panic woman who has to live according to the rules of Anglo society, not 
the Anglo woman who has to live according to the rules of Hispanic society. 
Another point Lugones made was that a Hispanic woman does not perceive 
herself as a woman of color in her own home among her family and friends. 
On the contrary! She perceived herself as herself. 27 

Adding to Lugones’s thoughts, Audre Lorde reasoned that even if the 
term “women of color” is set in opposition to the silent term “women of 
noncolor,” this relationship would not in and of itself necessarily make 
women of color the “Other” and white women the “Self” — not if women 
of color insisted on defining themselves as the “Self” and white women as 
the “Other.” Tired of explaining her African American/black woman’s ex- 
perience to white audiences, Lorde urged African American women and 
other women of color to stop explaining their difference from white 
women, demanding instead that white women start explaining their differ- 
ence from women of color: 

Traditionally, in American society, it is the members of oppressed, objectified 
groups who are expected to stretch out and bridge the gap between the actu- 
alities of our lives and the consciousness of our oppressor. For in order to 
survive, those of us for whom oppression is as American as apple pie have al- 
ways had to be watchers, to become familiar with the language and manners 



Conceptual Challenges for Multicultural Feminism 209 


of the oppressor, even sometimes adopting them for some illusion of protec- 
tion. Whenever the need for some pretense of communication arises, those 
who profit from our oppression call upon us to share our knowledge with 
them. In other words, it is the responsibility of the oppressed to teach the 
oppressors their mistakes. I am responsible for educating teachers who dis- 
miss my children’s culture in school. Black and Third World people are 
expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected 
to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the hetero- 
sexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade responsibil- 
ity for their own actions. There is a constant drain of energy which might be 
better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering 
the present and constructing the future. 28 

Lorde’s points are well taken. Yet, questions about other women’s differ- 
ences may be motivated by genuine interest in other women’s experiences. 
Indeed, Lugones pointed out that, provided Anglo and Hispanic women 
approach each other in the spirit of friends, they can travel between and 
into each other’s worlds and learn from each other. 29 

A second problem some multicultural feminists raised about the concept 
of women of color was the fact that just because a woman looks white or col- 
ored phenotypically does not mean she is white or colored genetically. Nor 
does it mean that she thinks of herself as white or as colored. Although many 
multicultural feminists made this claim eloquently and effectively, Adrian 
Piper made it particularly poignantly because of her own complex racial and 
ethnic background. A light-skinned, white-looking person with both “white” 
and “black” blood flowing through her body Piper described her complex 
family genealogy as follows: 

Our first European-American ancestor landed in Ipswich, Massachusetts, in 
1620 from Sussex; another in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1675 from London; 
and another in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1751, from Hamburg. Yet an- 
other was the first in our family to graduate from my own graduate institu- 
tion in 1778. My great-great-grandmother from Madagascar, by way of 
Louisiana, is the known African ancestor on my father’s side, as my great- 
great-grandfather from the Ibo of Nigeria is the known African ancestor on 
my mother’s, whose family has resided in Jamaica for three centuries. 30 

As someone able to pass for white or black, Piper described her situation 
as, more often than not, a no-win situation. Many black people were suspi- 
cious of her, demanding that she prove her “blackness” to them — a blackness 



210 Chapter 6: Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism 

she treasured and happened to claim as her primary and chosen identity. Even 
worse, some white people castigated her for “fooling” them into thinking that 
she was all white or for using her black genes to her advantage, as she did 
when she identified herself as African American instead of Caucasian on a de- 
mographic form to increase her chances of gaining admission to a prestigious 
graduate program. 

Building on Piper’s analysis, but making a different point, Naomi Zack 
claimed that the “one-drop” rule, according to which a person is black if he 
or she has any percentage of “black blood” in his or her ancestry, can play 
itself out in a variety of ways. 31 In a nation like the United States, where, in 
the past, many white slave-owners had children by black slaves, millions of 
people who currently regard themselves as white may be black according to 
the “one-drop” rule. Similarly, many people who look black and identify 
themselves as black may in fact be genetically more white than black. The 
category of race, like the categories of gender and class, is not neat and 
tidy. In fact, it is very messy and increasingly difficult to use coherently. 32 

Taking Piper’s and Zack’s ideas farther, Linda Martin Alcoff agreed that 
bodily markings are of a superficial nature and that racial categories have fluid 
borders. What counts as black in the United States may not count as black in 
another nation, stressed Alcoff. She noted that “the meanings of both race and 
such things as skin color or hair texture are mediated by language, religions, 
nationality, and culture, to produce a racialized identity.” 33 Alcoff provided 
several excellent examples for her observation, including the following: 

In the Dominican Republic, “black” is defined as Haitian, and dark-skinned 
Dominicans do not self-identify as black but as dark Indians or mestizos. 
Coming to the United States, Dominicans “become” black by the dominant 
U.S. standards. Under apartheid in South Africa, numbers of people would 
petition the government every year to change their official racial classification, 
resulting in odd official announcements from the Home Affairs Minister that, 
for example, this year “nine whites became colored, 506 colored became white, 
two whites became Malay ... 40 coloreds became black, 666 blacks became 
colored, 87 coloreds became Indian. . . . ” 34 

In providing the above examples, Alcoff’s point was not that people often 
misidentify an individual as black when he or she is in fact white, but that 
“race does not stand alone.” 35 On the contrary, race and ethnicity are socially 
constructed and deconstructed. Moreover, when it is possible to do so, some 
individuals choose their race or ethnicity depending on their own priorities 
and values or those of the society in which they live. It is telling, for example, 



Conceptual Challenges for Multicultural Feminism 211 


that in the South African example Alcoff provided, no whites applied to be 
black. 

But just because race and ethnicity are fluid categories, this does not mean 
that they are meaningless categories. Although all blacks, for example, are not 
essentially the same, sharing precisely the same “set of characteristics, ... set of 
political interests, and . . . historical identity,” said Alcoff, it is not accurate to 
say “that race is no more real than phlogiston or witchcraft.” 36 On the con- 
trary, race is very real since it is intensely present in societies like the United 
States. As Alcoff described it, race “is a structure of contemporary percep- 
tion, . . . tacit, almost hidden from view, and thus almost [but not quite] im- 
mune from critical reflection.” 37 This observation is particularly true of people 
who classify themselves as white but do not reflect on what white identity and 
white responsibility is. 

The truth of Alcoff ’s observations are ones to which I can testify. Many 
years ago, I attended a philosophy conference in Los Angeles. The confer- 
ence was held at a very swanky hotel, and most of the philosophers in at- 
tendance were white (and male, for that matter). I decided to take a long 
walk in a southerly direction. After walking one or so miles from the ho- 
tel, I noticed that the neighborhood started to change from mostly white 
to mostly Latin American/Hispanic to mostly African American. I was 
surrounded by swirls of color and music of all kinds and rhythms. The 
smell of one enticing food after another hit my olfactory nerves, as I be- 
came increasingly aware of how many people were sitting outside on the 
curbs for lack of air-conditioning in their own homes. Some of them 
stared at me. Suddenly, I became self-conscious and then came the realiza- 
tion: I was a spot of white in a sea of color. I was the “Other” and I felt 
vulnerable. For a moment, I wanted to run back to the hotel — to the 
safety of my white power and privilege. But somehow, I managed to over- 
come the urge, embarrassed by my realization that I liked my white privi- 
lege and power a bit too much and needed to work harder to divest my 
interest in maintaining it. 

A third factor complicating multicultural feminism, and one closely related 
to concerns about the concept of women of color, surfaces in the 2000 U.S. 
census form. 38 The form asks individuals to identify their race/ethnicity as 
one or more of the following: 

1. White 

2. Black, African American, or Negro 

3. American Indian or Alaska Native 

4. Asian Indian 



212 Chapter 6: Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism 

5. Chinese 

6. Filipino 

7. Japanese 

8. Korean 

9. Vietnamese 

10. Other Asian 

1 1 . Native Hawaiian 

12. Guamanian or Chamorro 

13. Samoan 

14. Other Pacific Islander 

15. Some other race 

The form asks individuals whether they are Spanish/Hispanic/Latino. 
People are supposed to answer in one of five ways: 

1 . No, not Spanish/Hispanic/Latino 

2. Yes, Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano 

3. Yes, Puerto Rican 

4. Yes, Cuban 

5. Yes, other Spanish/Hispanic/Latino 

According to Ella Shohat, as it currently stands, the U.S. census form is 
very confusing. She stressed that the categories used on the form are clearly 
“heterotopic” categories, “mingling issues of race (blacks), language (Hispan- 
ics), and geography (Asians) as if they were commensurate categories.” 39 No 
wonder, then, that during the 2000 U.S. Census, about seven million people 
identified themselves as belonging to more than one race or some other race 
than the racial categories provided on the U.S. Census form. 

Increasingly, many U.S. citizens find attempts to categorize individuals 
racially and ethnically as somewhat off the mark. Specifically, many parents 
of children whose race or ethnicity, or both, is blended report that their 
children’s self-identity does not rely exclusively or even mainly on racial and 
ethnic categories. Although personal anecdotes are no substitute for empiri- 
cal studies, my own two sons, the offspring of an Asian father (he grew up 
in China) and a Caucasian mother with a Czech ancestry (me), are quite 
relaxed about their complex racial and ethnic identity. One of my sons 
describes himself as “nothing in particular, but everything in general . . . 
American, I guess.” The other laughingly categorizes himself as “Chi- 
Czech.” For the most part, neither race nor ethnicity plays a strong role in 
either of my sons’ self-identity. They move between predominantly white 



Conceptual Challenges for Multicultural Feminism 213 


and predominantly nonwhite circles with incredible ease, reporting they feel 
equally at home in both circles of people. For them, a really crucial question 
to ask is “Are you Goth?” 

Yet another factor that complicates multicultural feminism is that as the 
term “multicultural feminism” is increasingly used, it embraces not only 
racial or ethnic groups that share a common history or tradition but also 
groups that feel that something about them — for example, their sexual ori- 
entation, class background, or physical condition — is the glue that makes 
them a “we.” For example, one of the earliest and still best expressions of les- 
bianism as a distinct culture appeared in Adrienne Rich’s now-classic essay, 
“Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” 40 In the essay, Rich 
was concerned about two matters: (1) why women’s love for other women 
“has been crushed, invalidated, forced into hiding and disguise” by the larger 
community; and (2) why lesbians’ writings have been neglected. According 
to Rich, any theory, including any feminist theory that “treats lesbian exis- 
tence as a marginal or less ‘natural’ phenomenon, as mere ‘sexual preference,’ 
or as the mirror image of either heterosexual or male homosexual relations is 
profoundly weakened thereby.” By “lesbian existence” Rich meant “the fact 
of the historical presence of lesbians and our continuing creation of the 
meaning of that existence.” By “lesbian continuum” Rich meant “a range — 
through each woman’s life and throughout history — of woman-identified 
experience, not simply the fact that a woman has had or consciously desired 
genital sexual experience with another woman.” For Rich, lesbianism was a 
culture, no less a culture than any other culture. 

Since Rich wrote this article, other groups have identified themselves 
as cultures, demanding that their voices be heard and that their identi- 
ties be respected. Among these cultures is so-called Deaf culture. 41 
Many individuals with hearing impairments do not perceive themselves 
as negatively disabled, as people in need of repair. On the contrary, they 
present themselves as specially abled, as a group of individuals with a 
history, tradition, language, and unique ability to communicate with 
each other. Members of Deaf culture also view themselves as a minority 
group that has been misunderstood, even oppressed, by the dominant 
culture, that is, by people without hearing impairments. Some hearing 
people have faulted nonhearing people for wanting to use sign-language 
only or for refusing cochlear implants for their children or themselves. 
Critics have labeled anyone who chooses to remain in Deaf culture, 
when he or she could instead join non-Deaf culture, as “crazy.” 

By highlighting lesbian culture and Deaf culture, I do not mean to priv- 
ilege lesbians and people with hearing impairments over individuals in 



214 Chapter 6: Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism 


other self-identified cultures. Rather, I simply want to emphasize that, as it 
is currently evolving, the concept of multicultural feminism exceeds the 
boundaries of women-of-color feminism. In other words, multicultural 
feminism in the United States, as elsewhere, is no longer simply a “politics 
of chromatic alliance.” 42 Instead, it is a movement that embraces a variety 
of marginalized cultures so that they can, at various moments in their de- 
velopment, coalesce to undermine and ultimately overthrow the power of 
those individuals who have proclaimed themselves to be the Center. 

A final problem with the concept of multicultural feminism is a poor 
understanding of white culture. If by white culture is meant a group of indi- 
viduals who, because of their skin color, share a living, breathing, organic tra- 
dition that weaves together customs, religious beliefs, musical, artistic and 
literary works, family stories, and so forth, then white culture does not exist. 
In contrast, if by white culture is meant a hegemonic power structure that will 
do whatever it has to do to retain and increase its privilege, then white culture 
most certainly does exist. As a hegemonic power structure in the United 
States, white culture evolved from the intersection of two historical situations: 
(1) the people who for nearly two centuries were the most populous in the 
United States happened to have white skin, and (2) the people who initially 
gained control of U.S. society’s economic, political, and cultural institutions 
also happened to have white skin. But today, having white skin is neither a 
necessary nor a sufficient condition for membership in the U.S. power elite. 
For example, poor white women surviving on social security checks too paltry 
to cover both their prescription drug bills and their food costs are not mem- 
bers of the power elite, though well-heeled African American lawyers and 
Latino(a)/Hispanic business persons probably are. There still is an “us” and a 
“them,” but who the “us” and “them” is in the process of change. 

Reflecting back over the points just raised, we can see why theorists like 
Shohat reasoned as they did. Shohat did not want to “follow a color/racial 
schema whereby the diverse feminists of color stand in line to represent their 
community.’” 43 She stressed the untidiness of the categories we use to describe 
ourselves and others, and the increasing difficulty we have using them consis- 
tently and coherently. For example, how does one categorize a female bisexual 
of Indian-African origin? asked Shohat. Such a woman “may be pressured to 
conform to sexual orientation as defined by U.S. norms, and may be accused 
of passing herself off as African, a charge carrying an implication of oppor- 
tunism . . . yet the history of Indian-Tanzanian-Americans, which differs from 
that of both Africans and Indians who immigrated to the U.S. directly from 
their respective continents, need not be shorn of their Africanness.” 44 Throw- 
ing up her hands at those who would stubbornly attempt to neatly categorize 



Global and Postcolonial Feminism: General Reflections 215 


this kind of diverse individual, Shohat offered a political definition of multi- 
cultural feminism: 

Rather than simply a “touchy-feely” sensitivity toward a diffuse aggregate 
of victims, multicultural feminism animates a multifaceted “plurilogue” 
among diverse resistant practices: “First World” white-feminism, social- 
ism, anarchism, “Third World” nationalism, “Fourth World” Indigenism, 
anti-racist diasporic activism and gay/lesbian/bi/transsexual movements. 45 

As stated, Shohat’s definition serves as a perfect bridge to a discussion of 
global and postcolonial feminism. It also invites the question whether global 
and postcolonial feminism are simply species of the genus multicultural femi- 
nism. Perhaps they are, but a complete answer to such a difficult conceptual 
question is, as of yet, not available. 

Global and Postcolonial Feminism: 

General Reflections 

Agreeing with multicultural feminists that the definition of feminism 
must be broadened to include all the factors (race, ethnicity, class, sex- 
ual identity, age, etc.) that oppress women in any one nation, global 
and postcolonial feminists emphasize that “the oppression of women in 
one part of the world is often affected by what happens in another, and 
that no woman is free until the conditions of oppression of women are 
eliminated everywhere.” 46 Specifically, these thinkers focus on the 
world’s division of nations into so-called First World nations (i.e., 
heavily industrialized and market-based nations located primarily in 
the Northern Hemisphere) on the one hand and so-called Third World 
nations (i.e., economically developing nations located primarily in the 
Southern Hemisphere) on the other. Global and postcolonial feminists 
closely examine how this state of affairs disempowers and disadvantages 
Third World women in particular. 

Operating under the assumption that most First World feminists remain 
primarily interested in gender issues related to sexuality and reproduction, 
many Third World feminists emphasize that even though gender issues are of 
concern to them, economic and political issues tend to occupy the center of 
their stage. They stress that their oppression as members of a Third World 
people are often greater than their oppression as women per se. For this reason, 
many Third World women reject the label feminist. Instead, they use other 
terms to describe themselves, including Alice Walker’s term “womanist.” 



216 Chapter 6: Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism 

Walker defined a womanist as “a Black feminist or woman of color” commit- 
ted to the “survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.” 47 

Most First World feminists largely accept as justified Third World wom- 
anists’ critiques of themselves. Joining with many Third World womanists, 
many First World feminists think of feminism as a dynamic movement 
rather than as a static school of thought. They seek to reconceive feminism as 
the process whereby women from all over the world discuss their commonal- 
ities and differences as honestly as possible in an effort to secure the follow- 
ing two long-term goals: 

1 . The right of women to freedom of choice, and the power to control our 
own lives within and outside of the home. Having control over our lives 
and our bodies is essential to ensure a sense of dignity and autonomy for 
every woman. 

2. The removal of all forms of inequity and oppression through the 
creation of a more just social and economic order, nationally and 
internationally. This means the involvement of women in national 
liberation struggles, in plans for national development, and in local 
and global struggles for change. 48 

For global and postcolonial feminists, the personal and the political are one. 
What goes on in the privacy of one’s home, including one’s bedroom, affects 
how men and women relate in the larger social order. Sexual and reproductive 
freedom should be of no more or less importance to women than economic 
and political justice. Socialist feminist Emily Woo Yamaski made this point 
most forcefully: “I cannot be an Asian American on Monday, a woman on 
Tuesday, a lesbian on Wednesday, a worker/student on Thursday, and a politi- 
cal radical on Friday. I am all these things every day.” 49 

Beyond emphasizing the interconnections between the various kinds of 
oppression each woman faces in her own life, global and postcolonial femi- 
nists stress the links between the various kinds of oppression women experi- 
ence throughout the world. Charlotte Bunch explained the connections 
between local and global feminism in greater detail: 

To make global feminist consciousness a powerful force in the world de- 
mands that we make the local, global and the global, local. Such a move- 
ment is not based on international travel and conferences, although these 
may be useful, but must be centered on a sense of connectedness among 
women active at the grass roots in various regions. For women in industri- 
alized countries, this connectedness must be based in the authenticity of 



Diversity and Commonality 217 


our struggles at home, in our need to learn from others, and in our efforts 
to understand the global implications of our actions, not in liberal guilt, 
condescending charity, or the false imposition of our models on others. 
Thus, for example, when we fight to have a birth control device banned in 
the United States because it is unsafe, we must simultaneously demand 
that it be destroyed rather than dumped on women in the Third World. 50 

The kind of consciousness that global and postcolonial feminism demands 
clearly requires great sensitivity to and awareness about the situations of 
women in nations other than one’s own. 

Diversity and Commonality 

By insisting that women are interconnected, global and postcolonial feminists 
do not intend to sweep womens differences under the rug. On the contrary. 
They claim women cannot work together as true equals until women recog- 
nize and address their differences. According to Audre Lorde, when a feminist 
walks into a room filled with women from all over the world, she probably 
wants to minimize her differences from them. It is simply too threatening to 
her notions about “sisterhood” to focus on women’s “manyness,” so she strains 
to focus on women’s “oneness.” Lorde stressed that it is precisely this type of 
behavior that explains some feminists’ inability to forge the kind of alliances 
necessary to create a better world: 

Advocating the mere tolerance of difference between women is the grossest 
reformism. It is a total denial of the creative function of difference in our 
lives. Difference must not be merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of neces- 
sary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only 
then does the necessity for interdependency become unthreatening. Only 
within that interdependency of different strengths, acknowledged and 
equal, can the power to seek new ways of being in the world generate, 
as well as the courage and sustenance to act where there are no charters. 51 

Just because a feminist from a privileged background wants to work with 
women very different from her — women who may for example, have suf- 
fered oppressions far more harmful to body, mind, and spirit than the ones 
she has suffered — does not mean this feminist should deny who she is or 
how she has suffered. Nor does it mean she should keep her counsel for fear 
of offending others. On the contrary, to refuse to reveal one’s self to others is 
to assume that others are not capable of coming to terms with one. It is to 



218 Chapter 6: Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism 


say, “Although I think I have what it takes to understand others, I doubt that 
they share this ability.” To think in such a fashion is the height of arrogance 
in global and postcolonial feminists’ view. 


Sexual/Reproductive Issues Versus Economic Issues 

Among the differences global and postcolonial feminists address is one we 
noted earlier in passing. Whereas some women focus on sexual and repro- 
ductive issues, other women focus on economic and political issues. In the 
estimation of global and postcolonial feminists, however, there is no bound- 
ary between these two kinds of issues. On the contrary, they co-constitute 
each other. 52 In this connection, global feminist Angela Gillian quoted a 
Cape Verdean woman who had invited her to speak to a group of adolescent 
women about the importance of higher education: 

I want my daughter to take part in what is taking place in this country. 

If she gets married now, she will never participate in the change. I don’t 
want her to be like me. I am married to a good man. As you know 
about 40 percent of Cape Verdian men are labourers in Europe, and 
my husband is in Holland. That house over there that we are building 
brick by brick right next to this little cabin is being made with the 
money he sends home. Every two years he gets one month’s vacation, 
and comes home to meet the baby he made the last time, and to make 
a new one. I don’t want that for my daughter. I’ve heard that it is possi- 
ble to prevent pregnancy by knowing the calendar. Please teach our 
girls how to count the days so that they can control pregnancies. 53 

Gillian commented that for this woman, the issue was not men’s oppres- 
sion of women but how an inequitable international labor system causes 
both men and women to construct their family relations in deleterious ways. 
No wonder, said Gillian, that many Third World women are convinced that 
“the separation of sexism from the political, economic, and racial is a strategy 
of elites. As such, it becomes a tool to confuse the real issues around which 
most of world’s women struggle.” 54 

Focus on Global Reproductive Issues 

One global theater in which multiple forms of oppression play is the theater of 
the reproduction-controlling technologies (e.g., contraception, sterilization, 



Sexual! Reproductive Issues Versus Economic Issues 219 


and abortion) and the reproduction-aiding technologies (e.g., intrauterine 
donor insemination and in vitro fertilization). Reflecting on the myriad ways 
in which government authorities seek to manipulate and control women’s re- 
productive powers worldwide, global and postcolonial feminists note that most 
First World feminists believe that in order to achieve equality with men, 
women must be able to control their reproductive destiny by having access to 
safe and effective contraceptives and abortions, for example. They assume that 
it is in the best interests of a woman to have only as many children as she can 
nurture without jeopardizing her health and her ability to work outside the 
home. The problem with this First World assumption, say global and postcolo- 
nial feminists, is that it does not necessarily apply to all women in the Third 
World. In fact, it does not even apply to all women in the First World. 

In the first place, there are women who want large families, despite the fact 
that being responsible for the care of many children may preclude or limit a 
woman’s participation in the paid workforce. Some women may measure 
their worth largely in terms of being good mothers and may have no desire to 
be anything other than good mothers. Other women may reason that because 
their society — or, on a moral personal level, their husbands — value them only 
to the extent they can produce large numbers of children, it is in their best 
interests to do so. 

Second, even when women want to use contraceptives and their govern- 
ments make a wide range of contraceptives available, it is not always in 
women’s best interests to use them — not if the contraceptives are unsafe, for 
example. It is one thing for women to use potentially harmful contraceptives 
in a nation like the United States, where follow-up medical care is generally 
available to all classes of women. But it is quite another for women to have 
access to such contraceptives with no provisions made for follow-up care. 
Specifically, Shawn Meghan Burn compared the distribution of some hor- 
monal contraceptives in different countries: 

In most Western countries, the Pill is prescribed by a physician, and a 
woman must have a Pap smear once a year to get her prescription renewed. 
This permits screening for . . . side effects . . . and for screening out those 
women for whom the Pill is contraindicated. . . . However in some countries 
(including Brazil, Mexico, and Bangladesh), the Pill is sold without a pre- 
scription in pharmacies and stores. Depo-Provera is sold over the counter in 
Nigeria and even along the roadside. Long distances to health-care facilities 
often preclude the monitoring that increases the safety and effectiveness of 
contraceptive methods. 55 



220 Chapter 6: Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism 

Burn’s observations notwithstanding, it is not clear, for example, that ban- 
ning over-the-counter sales of the Pill to Mexican women because of its health 
risks would serve Mexican women’s overall well-being. Ideally, all Mexican 
women — poor as well as rich — should have access to affordable health care. But 
in the absence of such care, and even with full knowledge that certain contra- 
ceptives may be unsafe, many Mexican women may still prefer the convenience, 
low cost, and privacy of an over-the-counter Pill purchase to a burdensome, rel- 
atively expensive, and public visit to a clinic, where health-care givers may chas- 
tise them for wanting to practice birth control. 56 Similarly, in many developing 
African nations, where men seek to control women’s reproductive and sexual 
lives in particularly harsh ways, a woman may gladly risk using a possibly unsafe 
contraceptive if that contraceptive is one that she can secure and use without 
her husband’s knowledge. 57 

Third, in the same way that having access to contraceptives is not always 
an unalloyed blessing for women, easy access to sterilization may not always 
be in women’s best interests, either. Whether sterilization is a good option for 
a woman may have much to do with her race, class, and nationality, according 
to global and postcolonial feminists. For example, in the United States, the 
quintessential First World nation, accessible sterilization has generally proved 
to be a blessing for well-educated, economically privileged, white women but 
not for poor women, particularly poor women of color. Specifically, in the 
1960s gynecologists observed the unofficial “rule of 120,” which precluded 
the sterilization of a woman unless her age times the number of her living 
children equaled 120 or more. 58 The physicians followed this rule religiously 
when it came to healthy, white, middle-class, married women. This state of 
affairs angered liberal feminists in particular. They pressed physicians to adopt 
more permissive sterilization policies, arguing that competent, adult women 
had a right to decide when they no longer wanted children. Back then, these 
liberal feminists failed to realize that the same gynecologists who were reluc- 
tant to sterilize relatively privileged white women were only too willing to 
sterilize relatively unprivileged women of color, particularly those who were 
dependent on government funding to support themselves and their children. 
Indeed, in some Southern U.S. states, sterilizations of indigent black women 
were so common that the procedures were irreverently referred to as “Missis- 
sippi appendectomies.” 59 More recently, but in the same manner, some U.S. 
legislators have drafted policies and laws linking women’s welfare eligibility to 
their willingness to use the contraceptive Norplant. In the estimation of these 
lawmakers, unless women agree to use this long-term contraceptive implant, 
they and their children should be denied Aid to Families with Dependent 
Children. 60 



Sexual/Reproductive Issues Versus Economic Issues 221 


But, of course, coerced sterilizations are not confined to First World sit- 
uations such as the one just described. All over the world, sterilizations are 
often less than fully voluntary. For example, during Indira Ghandi’s years 
as prime minister of India, the nation set the world record for vasectomies 
at 10 million in 1974, largely as a result of government policies that gave 
material goods to poor, illiterate men in exchange for their agreement to be 
sterilized. Not only did Indian government authorities fail to secure any- 
thing approximating genuine informed consent from most of these men 
prior to their sterilization, but the authorities also often neglected to give 
the men the promised materials goods after their sterilizations. When these 
facts became known, the public lost confidence in Ghandi’s government. 
Indian citizens protested that poor people should not be seduced with 
prizes such as money, food, clothes, and radios to give up their reproduc- 
tive rights. 61 Interestingly, the “sterilization scandal” played a key role in 
Ghandi’s overthrow as prime minister. This scandal did not dissuade gov- 
ernment authorities in other nations from developing similarly enticing 
sterilization policies for their people, however. For example, over twenty 
years later, Bangladesh’s sterilization incentive program gave people not 
only several weeks’ wages but also saris (female dresses) for women and 
lungis (male pants) for men. 62 

Fourth, as with contraception and sterilization, utilization of abortion ser- 
vices is not an unalloyed blessing for women. To be sure, preventing women 
from having access to safe abortions often has tragic results. Even in nations 
where contraceptives are available and affordable, women (and men) do not 
always elect to use them, for any number of reasons. Unwanted pregnancies 
are sometimes the result of such decisions. Although relatively few nations 
completely forbid abortion, about 16 percent permit abortion only to save 
the woman’s life, and another 46 percent of nations make it very difficult for 
women to have access to safe and legal abortions. 63 As a result of this state of 
affairs, many women who want abortions resort to illegal, usually unsafe 
abortions. Worldwide, about 70,000 women die as a result of subjecting 
themselves to an unsafe abortion. 64 The situation for women is particularly 
perilous in sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and Latin 
America, according to Burn. 65 

Yet abortion is not always in women’s overall best interests. According to 
global and postcolonial feminists, women in the former Soviet Union, for 
example, have an average of twelve to fourteen abortions during their lifetimes 
because contraceptives, although legal, are extremely difficult to obtain. Appar- 
endy, Russian cost-benefit studies concluded it is less expensive for the govern- 
ment to provide multiple abortions to women than to provide safe, effective, 



222 Chapter 6: Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism 


and monitored contraceptives to women. Sadly, the government ignored the 
toll that multiple abortions take on women’s bodies and psyches. 66 

Abortion is also readily available in nations that want to control the size of 
their populations. But policies such as the one-child policy in China have 
resulted in women’s having multiple abortions to make sure their one child is 
a boy. In China, most people, especially people who are bound by patriarchal 
thinking, still prefer boys to girls for several reasons, especially the reason that, 
traditionally, it is the son who provides care for his aging parents. In the past, 
Chinese women got pregnant as many times as necessary to produce at least 
one male offspring. If women produced too many daughters on the way to 
delivering a son, the mothers sometimes resorted to female infanticide or child 
abandonment. Nowadays, due to the availability of low-cost, easily accessible 
sex-selection techniques such as ultrasound, and to a lesser extent amniocente- 
sis, most Chinese prefer to electively abort their female fetuses over facing the 
trauma of a female-infanticide or female-abandonment decision. 

So effective has the increased use of sex-selection techniques been in 
China, an enormous sex-ratio imbalance has been created there. In fact, the 
sex-ratio imbalance in China in 2006 was 119 males for every 100 females. 67 
Although one might think that a low supply of women in a nation might 
increase women’s status, instead it seems to increases women’s vulnerability. 
In the rural sections of China, for example, men kidnap women and force 
their victims to marry them. Even worse, some poor families have resorted to 
selling their prepubescent daughters to men who want a bride. 68 Realizing 
that they had a serious “bachelor” problem on their hands, Chinese govern- 
ment officials have relaxed the one-child policy and inaugurated a girls-are- 
as-good-as-boys campaign. They have also outlawed techniques such as 
ultrasound and amniocentesis for purposes of sex selection. 69 

As in China, permissive abortion, sterilization, and contraceptive policies in 
India, another nation that prefers male offspring to female offspring, have 
resulted in a sex-ratio imbalance of 1 ,000 males for every 927 females. 70 And, as 
in China, Indian authorities have decided to ban the use of ultrasound and 
amniocentesis for sex-selection purposes in an effort to correct India’s sex-ratio 
imbalance. The ban, however, has not been uniformly enforced. In addition, 
many women, particularly in India’s rural regions, continue to engage in female 
infanticide because daughters are cosdy in India. 71 Girls’ parents must provide 
wedding dowries for their daughters. These dowries are no trivial matter. On 
the contrary, they can threaten the livelihood of the girls’ parents. 

Exacerbating the situation is the fact that when it banned ultrasound and 
amniocentesis for sex-selection purposes, the Indian government did not ban 
all sex-selection techniques. For this reason, Gametrics, a U.S. company with 



Sexual/Reproductive Issues Versus Economic Issues 223 


clinics in many Third World nations, started to heavily market a preconcep- 
tion sex-selection technology in India. The technology separates Y chromo- 
somes from X chromosomes. Women who want a baby boy and who can 
afford the technology are inseminated with androsperm only. Reflecting on 
this costly technology, Maria Mies commented: “This example show clearly 
that the sexist and racist ideology is closely interwoven with capitalist profit 
motives, that the logic of selection and elimination has a definite economic 
base. Patriarchy and racism are not only ethically rejectable ideologies, they 
mean business indeed.” 72 

Focus on Global Production Issues 

No less a woman’s issue than reproduction is production, according to global 
and postcolonial feminists. As Robin Morgan noted, “Women are the 
world’s proletariat.” 73 Even though it constitutes 60 to 80 percent of most 
nations’ economies, housework continues to suffer from “gross national 
product invisibility.” 74 To deny that women work, stressed Morgan, is ab- 
surd. Women constitute almost the totality of the world’s food producers 
and are responsible for most of the world’s hand portage of water and fuel. In 
most nations, handicrafts are largely or solely the products of female labor, 
and in most nations, women constitute a large portion of tourist industry 
workers, including the notorious sex tourism industry, which caters to busi- 
nessmen who pay for the sexual services of women in the countries they 
visit. 75 

In addition, women are migrant and seasonal workers in agrarian nations 
and part-time laborers in industrialized nations. A significant percentage of 
the elder care, childcare, and domestic work done in First World nations is 
done by Third World women who have left their own families back home to 
make money to support them. There is, said Arlie Hochschild, a “global 
heart transplant” at work in the exportation of care from poor, developing 
nations to wealthy, developed nations. 76 

Also of particular significance in developing nations is the large number of 
women who work in factories owned by First World multinational companies. 
Most of the women (and men) who labor in these factories work under sweat- 
shop conditions. Rosemary Radford Ruether noted that these conditions 
include the following ones: “workers receive less than a living wage, are forced to 
work long hours (ten to twelve hours a day) without overtime pay, work in 
unsafe conditions, are harassed on the job, physically and verbally abused, and 
are prevented from organizing unions and bargaining for better conditions.” 77 
Examples of the global market at work include Indonesia, where female factory 



224 Chapter 6: Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism 


workers receive about $ 1 .25 a day for ten or even more hours of work; Vietnam, 
where female factory workers get about six cents an hour to assemble the pro- 
motional toys U.S. children find in their McDonald’s Happy Meal boxes. 78 
And there is Mexico, where female workers laboring in factories on the Mexican 
side of the United States-Mexico border receive far less wages than do female 
workers laboring in factories on the U.S. side of this same border. 79 

Global and postcolonial feminists debate whether women should work 
under sweatshop conditions. On the one hand, such work has made some 
women better off “as members of families who rely on their support, as moth- 
ers who want a better standard of living for their children, as young unmarried 
women who want the status that economic independence sometimes 
brings.” 80 On the other hand, such work has made other women compliant 
and docile to a fault, unwilling to defend their human rights for fear of losing 
their jobs. Protest seems in order, said Ruether, as long as a Nike worker in Asia 
earns less than $2.00 a day and Nike CEO Phil Knight owns $4.5 billion in 
Nike stock. 81 

Adding to women’s total workload is the eight or more hours of unrecog- 
nized work (housework, childcare, elder care, sick care) they do every day. 
When governments and businesses do respond to women’s complaints about 
their “double day” (eight or more hours of recognized work outside the home 
and eight or more hours of unrecognized work inside the home), the response, 
more often than not, does not substantially improve women’s situations. Gov- 
ernments or businesses tell women to work part time or to get on a “mommy 
track,” strategies that are not feasible for women who need to support their 
families and that are not desirable for women who want to improve their status 
and wages at work. Even worse, some governments and businesses fail to 
understand women’s complaints about their “double day” of work at all, rec- 
ommending sexist solutions. For example, Cuba’s Fidel Castro once proposed 
that “hairdressers remain open during the evening to ease the burden of the 
woman who is employed during the day but needs to be attractive in her house 
wifing role at night.” 82 Not only did Castro expose his sexism, but he also 
showed no awareness of the situation of female hairdressers, who might not be 
able to work night shifts, because of their own family responsibilities. 

Reflecting on how hard women work and how little government and 
business has done to ameliorate women’s lot, Morgan concluded this state of 
affairs obtains because “Big Brother’s” interests are not served by providing 
women the same kind of work and economic security it provides men. 
Whether Big Brother lives in the First World or Third World, said Morgan, 
“a marginal female labor force is a highly convenient asset: cheap, always 
available, easily and callously disposed of.” 83 



Sexual/Reproductive Issues Versus Economic Issues 225 


Women in Development 

Global and postcolonial feminists are somewhat critical of developed nations’ 
efforts to improve developing nations’ economies in general and women’s lot 
in particular. Specifically, these feminists are skeptical about First World 
development programs for Third World people. Most Third World nations 
are located in the Southern Hemisphere, and most share a colonial history; 
that is, most developing nations were at one time colonized by European 
nations that exploited them as sources of cheap labor and valuable resources. 
These European nations also dismissed the cultures and traditions of the 
native peoples they colonized as less civilized than their own. Oftentimes, 
they forced native peoples to learn and speak their languages (English, French, 
German, Spanish, and so forth) and to convert to their dominant religion, 
Christianity. 84 

After World War II, most colonizers pulled out of the lands they had 
exploited, viewing these territories as an increasing cost rather than benefit. 
Sadly, and largely because of what the colonizing nations had done to them, 
many Asians, Africans, and South Americans found themselves incredibly 
poor. They were then forced to go to their former colonizers and borrow 
money from them. In the 1960s, interest rates were relatively low and many 
developing nations borrowed large amounts of money from developed 
nations. The developing nations assumed that they could boost their 
economies relatively quickly and pay back their debt swiftly. Unfortunately, 
most developing nations found it extraordinarily difficult to catch up to the 
nations that had previously exploited them. By the time developing nations 
realized that development is a slow process, interest rates had risen steeply, 
and the borrowers were unable to pay the interest on their loans. 

To prevent the world economic system from crashing, the International 
Monetary Fund and the World Bank rescheduled the debts of many develop- 
ing nations. As part of this plan, they required the affected nations to adjust 
the structure of their economies to ease their integration into the global eco- 
nomic system. According to Ruether, the “formula” for so-called Structural 
Adjustment was harsh. Among other things, it required “devaluation of local 
currency . . . the removal of trade barriers that protected local industries and 
agriculture . . . the privatization of public sector enterprises, such as trans- 
portation, energy, telephones, and electricity . . . and the removal of mini- 
mum wage laws and state subsidies for basic foods, education, and health 
services for the poor.” 85 Moreover, in order to earn enough foreign currency 
to finance their rescheduled external debts, developing nations had to export 
as many inexpensive goods as possible to developed nations or work for large 



226 Chapter 6: Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism 

transnational companies located in their boundaries, or do both. As a result of 
this state of affairs, most developing nations were unable to produce their own 
consumer goods and were forced to import them from developed nations. 
Not only did these goods prove to be costly, but they also bore the cultural 
imprint of the world’s developed nations: Nike sneakers, Camel cigarettes, 
Coca-Cola, Ford automobiles, Levi Strauss blue jeans, and Dell computers. 
The so-called McDonaldization of the world seemed harmless enough on the 
surface, yet it signaled the recolonization of the South by the North. 

Global and postcolonial feminists claim that women in developing na- 
tions, even more than men in developing nations, are used to service what 
Alison Jaggar termed the “Southern debt.” 86 Detailing how the First 
World’s you-can-catch-up-to-us policies serve the interests of the First 
World far more than the policies serve the interests of the Third World, 
Maria Mies noted that First World economists make unrealistic promises to 
Third World people. They tell Third World people that developing nations 
can attain the same standard of living First World people enjoy. But down 
deep, these economists doubt the truth of their stories about endless 
progress and limitless growth. 87 Observing that the world’s population will 
swell to 1 1 billion after the year 2050, Mies stated: “If of these eleven bil- 
lion people the per capita energy consumption was similar to that of Amer- 
icans in the mid-1970s, conventional oil resource would be exhausted in 
34-74 years.” 88 

Because the First World already finds it difficult to maintain its high stan- 
dard of living, Mies speculated that whatever the First World gives the Third 
World in the way of benefits, it extracts in the way of costs. Specifically, she 
said, the First World passes on to its Third World “partners” the economic, 
social, and ecological costs the First World cannot pay without dropping 
from its privileged status to something more akin to Third World status: 

The relationship between colonized and colonizer is based not on any 
measure of partnership but rather on the latter’s coercion and violence in 
its dealings with the former. This relationship is in fact the secret of 
unlimited growth in the centers of accumulation. If externalization of all 
the costs of industrial production were not possible, if they had to be 
borne by the industrialized countries themselves, that is if they were inter- 
nalized, an immediate end to unlimited growth would be inevitable. 89 

In sum, stressed Mies, “catching-up development” is not feasible for two 
reasons: (1) There are only so many resources to divide among humankind, 
and they are currently inequitably distributed and consumed; and (2) to 
maintain its present power, the existing “colonial world order” needs to 



Sexual/Reproductive Issues Versus Economic Issues 227 


maintain the economic gap it promises to eliminate. For example, First 
World women’s overall affluence depends on Third World women’s overall 
poverty: 

Only while women in Asia, Africa, or Latin America can be forced to 
work for much lower wages than those in affluent societies — and that is 
made possible through the debt trap — can enough capital be accumu- 
lated in the rich countries so that even unemployed women are guaran- 
teed a minimum income; but all unemployed women in the world 
cannot expect this. Within a world system based on exploitation “some 
are more equal than others.” 90 

In addition to claiming that “catching-up development” schemes are not 
feasible, Mies noted that, in her estimation, they are also not desirable. She 
observed that the First World’s “good life” is actually a very bad life insofar as 
human relationships are concerned. First World people are too busy making 
money to spend time with each other. They are so strained and stressed they 
have little sense of selfhood or ultimate meaning. First World people run the 
rat race, day after day, until the day they die, said Mies. Their children in- 
herit their considerable material goods, and the cycle of meaningless running 
around until one drops dead continues. 

The point of Mies’s critique of the First World was not to recommend 
that because poor people in the Third World had enviable family and 
friendship relationships and a more appropriate set of life values than those 
typically displayed by hard-core First World materialists, the poor should 
stay dirt poor. Rather, it was that because money and power are limited 
goods, a relentless and single-minded pursuit of them inevitably leads to 
discord. In this connection, Mies offered an example that focused on First 
World women and Third World women as each other’s competitors: 

It may be in the interest of Third World women working in the garment 
industry for export, to get higher wages, or even wages equivalent to 
those paid in the industrialized countries; but if they actually received 
these wages then the working-class woman in the North could hardly af- 
ford to buy those garments, or buy as many of them as she does now. In 
her interest the price of these garments must remain low. Hence the in- 
terests of these two sets of women who are linked through the world 
market are antagonistic. 91 

As long as the possession of material goods and power is equated with 
human happiness, said Mies, there will be the kind of competition and 



228 Chapter 6: Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism 

antagonism that inevitably leads to conflict and even war. Women will be 
set against women globally and against their own men nationally. 

From the perspective of global and postcolonial feminists, stressed Mies, 
the First World must abandon its view of the “good life” and substitute for it 
a view predicated not on the quantity of one’s possessions and power but on 
the quality of one’s relationships. In addition, the First World must confront 
the material world’s limits and vow to live within them. Only then will it be 
possible to create a new world order, in which divisions such as First 
World— Third World are incomprehensible. Finally, from the perspective of 
global and postcolonial feminists, women should take the lead in devising 
and implementing the systems, structures, policies, and programs needed to 
effect this transformation. 

Knowing When to Respect Women’s Culture 

That women are different and that they have different priorities is a tenet of 
global and postcolonial feminism. According to Mies and Shiva, the East- West 
confrontations that preoccupied us from World War I onward, as well as the 
North-South tensions that currently confront us ended not only “all socialist 
dreams and utopias” but also “all universal” ideologies based on the conception 
of a common human nature. 92 Belief in oneness, they said, is Eurocentric, ego- 
centric, and phallogocentric. We must deconstruct the “one” so people can be 
themselves — not the other. Moreover, insisted Mies and Vandana Shiva, because 
natural and cultural diversity is a precondition for the maintenance of life on 
the planet, thoughtful people must oppose both the “homogenization of culture 
on the U.S. coca-cola and fast-food model” and the destruction of life forms 
“according to the demands of profit-oriented industries.” 93 

Attracted to the view that the idea of “the many” needs to replace the idea 
of “the one,” global and postcolonial feminists reasoned that ethical rela- 
tivism, the theory that ethical judgments are applicable only to the time and 
place in which they arise, needs to replace ethical absolutism, the theory that 
ethical judgments are applicable to all times and all places. But this is easier 
said than done from a feminist point of view. Ethical relativism poses a seri- 
ous threat to feminism. For example, Mies and Shiva noted the total es- 
pousal of ethical relativism implies that global feminists “must accept even 
violence, and such patriarchal and exploitative institutions and customs as 
dowry, female genital mutilation, India’s caste system. . . . Taken to extremes 
the emphasis on ‘difference’ could lead to losing sight of all commonalities, 
making even communication impossible.” 94 In other words, if the idea of 
difference makes it impossible for women in one culture to communicate 



Knoiving When to Respect Womens Culture 229 


with women in another culture, global and postcolonial feminists might as 
well forget their plans to build a new world order. Such an order is neither 
viable nor welcome if people are so different they cannot even make sense of 
each other’s words. 

Among the global and postcolonial feminists who realized that cultures can- 
not be excused for traditions that wrongfully harm people — in this instance, 
women and girls — is Uma Narayan, a woman of Indian background who now 
lives in the United States. In Dislocating Cultures: Identities, Traditions, and 
Third World Feminisms, Narayan observed that Westerners (her term) should 
acknowledge their role in creating unfavorable representations of the so-called 
Other as uncivilized, primitive, barbaric, or animalistic, and for letting their 
negative ideas about the Other be used as conceptual ammunition to defend 
unjust colonial policies. But, in her opinion, Westerners should not seek for- 
giveness for their past sins against Eastern people by refusing to engage in 
moral criticism of them now. 95 Narayan did not want guilt-ridden Westerners 
to unreflectively venerate her native land, India, as incapable of evil, but to 
insist with her that the wrongness that characterized U.S. segregation and 
South African apartheid is the same wrongness that still characterizes the In- 
dian caste system, for example. In addition, Narayan pleaded that when she, 
Uma Narayan, condemns female genital mutilation, the sale of human organs, 
or sex-selective abortion, she should not be dismissed by Westerners as, after 
all, only a “Westernized” Indian woman, unable to speak on behalf of “authen- 
tic” Indian women, who presumably endorse every feature of their culture, no 
matter how harmful to women. 96 

Narayan’s conviction that Westerners, but particularly Western feminists, 
need to apply the same moral standards to all people is not unique to her. Her 
viewpoint is shared by an increasing number of global and postcolonial femi- 
nists who wish to develop a “feminist humanism” that combines “the respect 
for differences characteristic of progressive movements since the 1960s with 
the universalistic aspirations of earlier liberatory traditions.” 97 For example, 
the late feminist political theorist Susan Moller Okin claimed that feminists 
must talk about women’s needs generically as well as specifically. 98 Conceding 
that as a group, women do not experience gender inequality to the same 
extent and degree, Okin nonetheless insisted that all women do experience it 
in some way or another, for the same reasons, and with the same conse- 
quences. Because virtually all societies regard women as the “second sex,” as 
existing to some degree for men’s sexual pleasure, reproductive use, and 
domestic service — and for all of society’s care — women throughout the world 
tend to have not only less sexual freedom and reproductive choice than men 
have but also worse socioeconomic and health status. 



230 Chapter 6: Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism 


Okin’s views and views like hers were voiced beginning in the 1970s at sev- 
eral International Womens Conferences, including ones in Mexico City (1975), 
Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985), and Beijing (1995). At these conferences, 
women from both developed and developing nations revealed that their quality 
of life was diminished simply by virtue of their female sex. They discussed how 
their respective nations’ sex, reproduction, marriage, divorce, child-custody, 
family-life, and work laws worsened their lot in life, and how women and girls, 
far more than men and boys, were sexually vulnerable, unhealthy, uneducated, 
and poor." 

Inspired by the conference discussions, many global and postcolonial fem- 
inists went home to take action to improve women’s condition worldwide as 
well as in their own nation. In particular, they began a campaign to have 
women’s rights recognized as human rights in international documents such 
as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Conven- 
tion on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 
and the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against 
Women. 100 But then some global and postcolonial feminists began to have 
doubts about a women’s rights approach to problems. 

One reason some of these feminists lacked enthusiasm for women’s 
rights is that they heard within rights talk a lingering tendency to privilege 
first-generation civil and political rights over second-generation economic 
and social rights. 101 Typical first-generation rights include freedom from 
oppression and from governmental interference with liberty of thought 
and action, whereas typical second-generation rights include the right to 
food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, work, rest, and reasonable 
payment. 102 If women’s first-generation rights are honored without equal 
attention to women’s second-generation rights, many women will remain 
at a real disadvantage, said global and postcolonial feminists. For example, 
a poor woman’s right to have an abortion does not mean much if it simply 
prevents others from interfering with her decision to abort her fetus. She 
also needs the funds to pay for an abortion. And even if funding is avail- 
able, her right to have an abortion will mean but little if, as a result of her 
abortion decision, she is ostracized from her community or rejected, 
abused, or divorced by a husband on whom she is financially and socially 
dependent. 

Other global and postcolonial feminists rejected rights language not so 
much for the reason just given, but because they thought some of the rights 
that get privileged as universal human rights are not as universal as their propo- 
nents insist. These global and postcolonial feminists claimed that the rights are 
the creation of Western liberalism. These rights represent only, or primarily, the 



Knoiving When to Respect Womens Culture 231 


values and interests that people in nations like the United States favor. Anne 
Phillips pointed out that the high value placed on autonomy in statements of 
universal human rights may be “a central preoccupation of Western cultures” 
and that many women do not value “personal autonomy and mobility over the 
ties of family or community.” 103 They do not want to be “liberated” from 
either the constraints of tradition or the obligations and limitations that go 
with belonging to a community. Phillips’s observation was reinforced by Aus- 
tralian feminist Chila Bulbeck, who described her reaction to a pro-choice rally 
she attended in Washington, D.C.: 

I was struck by the anger of many of the speakers and participants. A black 
and white womens vocal group from Manhattan . . . shouted out the slogan 
“We are fierce, we are feminist, and we are in your face.” Robin Morgan 
urged us to buy T-shirts proclaiming “Rage plus women equals power.” One 
placard read “Abort Bush Before His Second Term.” Angry arguments 
erupted between the pro-choice women and the pro-life women who had 
erected a “cemetery of innocents” nearby (representing aborted fetuses . . . ). I 
went to the United States believing I knew it intimately from the flood of 
films, television programs, and academic books that pervade Australian popu- 
lar and intellectual culture. Yet I felt battered and cut adrift by the assertive- 
ness and anger, by the incessant refrain of rights and freedoms. This fashion 
of feminism was unfamiliar to me. 104 

Still other global and postcolonial feminists raised even more basic objec- 
tions to rights talk. They thought it was a mistake to invoke as normative 
the concept of rights instead of its arguably correlative concept of responsi- 
bilities or duties. As they saw it, my right to at least a subsistence amount of 
food is dependent on your or someone else’s responsibility to provide it for 
me. One feminist theorist who insisted that rights are best understood in 
terms of responsibilities was Diane Elson. She presented human rights as 
claims “to a set of social arrangements — to norms, institutions, laws and an 
enabling economic environment — that can best secure the enjoyment of 
these rights.” 105 Moreover, she claimed it is wrong for states to stand idly by 
as charitable organizations and other nongovernment organizations struggle 
to maintain society’s infrastructures so as to prevent its members from 
harm. 

Although talking about responsibilities rather than rights makes it more clear 
that the realization of individual rights is dependent on others’ felt or accepted 
responsibilities, such talk does not explain why individuals may lay claim to 
some social arrangements, goods, and services but not to others. Agreeing with 



232 Chapter 6: Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism 

Elson that states must see to it that their citizens’ rights are concretized, Martha 
Nussbaum specified which social arrangements, goods, and services a state must 
actually provide to the individuals who live within its border. As she saw it, indi- 
viduals may demand as a matter of “right” from the state only those arrange- 
ments, goods, and services that will enable them to develop two sets of 
functional human capabilities: those that, if left undeveloped, render a life not 
human at all, and those that, if left undeveloped, render a human life less than a 
good life. 106 

Nussbaum’s list of functional human capabilities included noncontro- 
versial ones such as life, bodily health, and bodily integrity. But her list 
also included more controversial functional human capabilities such as 
the capability to play and to relate to nonhuman animals. Thus, it is not 
surprising that some global and postcolonial feminists viewed Nussbaum’s 
list as reflecting not the needs of all women but the needs of “highly edu- 
cated, artistically inclined, self-consciously and voluntarily Western 
women.” 107 To this criticism, Nussbaum responded that she did not wish 
to impose her “good life” on any woman other than herself; she just 
wanted other women to have the means they need to choose their own 
version of the good life. 

Many global and postcolonial feminists remained skeptical of Nussbaum’s 
response, however. In an attempt to justify their skepticism, they pointed to 
passages from Nussbaum’s writings such as the following one: 

The capabilities approach insists that a woman’s affiliation with a certain 
group or culture should not be taken as normative for her unless, on due con- 
sideration, with all the capabilities at her disposal, she makes that norm her 
own. We should take care to extend to each individual full capabilities to pur- 
sue the items on the list and then see whether they want to avail themselves of 
these opportunities. Usually they do, even when tradition says they should 
not. Martha Chen’s work with [Indian] widows . . . reveals that they are al- 
ready deeply critical of the cultural norms that determine their life quality. 
One week at a widows’ conference in Bangelore was sufficient to cause these 
formerly secluded widows to put on forbidden colors and to apply for loans; 
one elderly woman, “widowed” at the age of seven, danced for the first time 
in her life, whirling wildly in the center of the floor . . . Why should women 
cling to a tradition, indeed, when it is usually not their voice that speaks 
or their interests that are served? 108 

Nussbaum’s suggestion that one week at a conference could undo years of 
enculturation troubled global and postcolonial feminist critics. Although they 



Conclusion 233 


conceded that Nussbaum’s understanding of human rights in terms of capa- 
bilities moves from an abstract interpretation to a contextual interpretation of 
human rights, her critics nonetheless claimed that it ultimately reverts to 
type — that is, liberalism as constructed in the Western world. Commented 
Vivienne Jabri of King’s College Centre for International Relations, Depart- 
ment of War Studies: 

The practical implication of Nussbaums approach ... is the production of 
subjects whose emancipation is defined in terms of their full participation in 
the global liberal order. Apart from the banality of the certainties expressed, 
there is here a form of “epistemic violence” that astounds. In representing her 
discourse as a baseline for an international feminism, Nussbaum reiterates a 
late-modern form of colonial mentality that leaves the subject of its discourse 
shorn of history and complexity. This subject is hence denied a presence. This 
form of international feminism is ultimately a form of disciplining biopoli- 
tics, where the distribution of female bodies is ultimately what can constitute 
their freedom, as consumers within the global marketplace, where, to use Spi- 
vak, “to be” is “to be gainfully employed.” 109 

Clearly, it is not an easy task for feminists to strike a balance between uni- 
versalism and relativism. Yet it is a task that needs to remain high on feminists’ 
to-do lists. 

Conclusion 

Multicultural, global, and postcolonial feminists present a great challenge to 
feminism: how to unite women in, through, and despite their differences. 
In general, these theorists have offered women two ways to achieve unity in 
diversity. The first consists of working toward sisterhood or friendship. For 
example, in the introduction to Sisterhood Is Global, Robin Morgan stressed 
that, in the end, women are not really so very different. Provided women 
ask each other “ sincere questions about difference,” said Morgan, they will 
see each other as searching for the same thing: namely, a r<?/f (“self-identity,” 
“an articulation of self-hood,” “self-realization,” “self-image,” “the right to 
be oneself”). 110 

Furthering Morgan’s point, Elizabeth Spelman itemized the kind of sin- 
cere questions multicultural, global, and postcolonial feminists may ask each 
other. These questions included the following: “What do I and can I know 
about women from whom I differ in terms of race, culture, class ethnicity?” 
“What happens when oppressors want to undo racism or other oppression; 



234 Chapter 6: Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism 

how do they go about acquiring knowledge about others, knowledge whose 
absence is now regretted?” 111 

Among the many ways to find answers to these questions, said Spelman, is 
to “read books, take classes, open your eyes and ears or whatever instruments of 
awareness you might be blessed with, go to conferences planned and produced 
by the people about whom you wish to learn and manage not to be 
intrusive.” 112 Other ways are to try to imagine what other women’s lives are 
like and to be tolerant of differences, including the off-putting and threatening 
ones. 

Interestingly, Spelman later refined her thought with some subtle distinc- 
tions. She said that there is a difference between merely imagining another 
woman’s life and actually perceiving it. She explained the difference: 

When I am perceiving someone, I must be prepared to receive new informa- 
tion all the time, to adapt my actions accordingly, and to have my feelings de- 
velop in response to what the person is doing, whether I like what she is doing 
or not. When simply imagining her, I can escape from the demands her reality 
puts on me and instead construct her in my mind in such a way that I can pos- 
sess her, make her into someone or something who never talks back, who 
poses no difficulties for me, who conforms to my desires much more than the 
real person does. 113 

In addition to specifying the difference between acts of imagination 
and acts of perception, Spelman elucidated a second important distinc- 
tion between the act of tolerating someone’s opinion and the act of wel- 
coming someone’s opinion. She claimed that merely to tolerate a 
viewpoint is to fail to seek it out “actively” as a serious critique of one’s 
own viewpoint. If I am just tolerating you, I am not open to really 
changing myself. I am not prepared to be your friend; instead, I am sim- 
ply willing not to be your enemy. In contrast, if I am welcoming you into 
me, I am exposing myself to the possibility of real change. I am express- 
ing willingness to view my present self as a self in need of improvement, 
indeed transformation. 

In a dialogical essay she coauthored with Maria Lugones, Spelman 
stressed that to develop an adequate (i.e., multicultural, global, and postcolo- 
nial) feminist theory, a wide variety of women would have to formulate it 
together. Lugones reacted to Spelman’s proposal with some challenging 
points. She wondered whether women who had previously been marginal- 
ized by the recognized authorities in feminist thought would now want to 
join them to create a better feminist theory. Perhaps these once-marginalized 



Conclusion 235 


women would prefer to do their own theory, in their own voices, without 
shouldering the burdens that generally accompany collaborative projects. 

Lugones was concerned about the motives behind reigning feminist author- 
ities’ sudden interest in the views of “Others.” Was the motive a self-interested 
one, in the sense of “self-growth or self expansion, feeding off the rich ‘differ- 
ence’ of the other?” Or, just as bad, was the motive a mere sense of duty, under- 
stood as an act of noblesse oblige or as an anemic substitute for true love? 114 
Lugones then continued that such motives, if present, would make it impossi- 
ble for white women/First World women to fully partner with women of 
color/Third World women in theory making. She stressed that the only motive 
capable of bringing women together to weave a feminist theory strong enough 
to withstand the challenges of the twenty-first century is the motive of wanting 
to be friends. Unless one woman wants to be another woman’s friend, she will 
be unable to summon the psychic energy to travel to that woman’s world in 
order to imagine or see the other woman living her life there as a self rather 
than as an “Other.” Therefore, according to Lugones as well as Spelman and 
Morgan, the chief task of multicultural, global, and postcolonial feminists is to 
help women learn how to be each other’s friends. 

Disagreeing with Morgan’s, Spelman’s, and Lugones’s views on the essential 
goal of multicultural and global feminism are a variety of thinkers, including 
bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and Iris Young. Although hooks and Lorde some- 
times employed the language of sisterhood in their writings, for them sister- 
hood is a political rather than a personal concept. Women can be sisters in the 
sense of being political comrades, but only if they are willing to truly confront 
their differences. Imagining, perceiving, tolerating, and welcoming are fine, 
insofar as they go, but confronting differences requires far more painful activi- 
ties, like being enraged and being shamed. There is a difference, hooks empha- 
sized, between “bourgeois-women’s-liberation” sisterhood and multicultural, 
global, and postcolonial feminist sisterhood. The former focuses on women’s 
“supporting” each other, where support serves “as a prop or a foundation for a 
weak structure” and where women, emphasizing their “shared victimization,” 
give each other “unqualified approval.” 115 The latter rejects this sentimental 
brand of sisterhood and offers instead a type of sisterhood that begins with 
women’s confronting and combating each other’s differences and ends with 
their using these very same differences to “accelerate their positive advance” 
toward the goals they share. As hooks explained: “Women do not need to erad- 
icate difference to feel solidarity. We do not need to share common oppression 
to fight equally to end oppression. . . . We can be sisters united by shared inter- 
ests and beliefs, united in our appreciation for diversity, united in our struggle 
to end sexist oppression, united in political solidarity.” 116 Lorde also stressed 



236 Chapter 6: Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism 

the importance of maintaining women’s differences rather than trying to tran- 
scend them. She claimed, for example, that feminists don’t have to love each 
other in order to work with each other. 1 17 In the same vein, Young observed 
that although women should not be enemies, they should not expect to be 
friends. They should simply be content to be “strangers.” 118 

Rejecting the homogenizing, conformist tendencies of the language of com- 
munity and family, Young argued that feminists should not try to be “sisters” 
and “friends” with women whose worlds are radically different than their own. 
As Nancie Caraway noted, for Young, the “insistence on the ideal of shared sub- 
jectivity . . . leads to undesirable political implications.” 119 Young repeatedly 
urged feminists to distrust the desire “for reciprocal recognition and identifica- 
tion with others . . . because it denies differences in the concrete sense of mak- 
ing it difficult for people to respect those with whom they do not identify.” 120 
She claimed, said Caraway, that multicultural, global, and postcolonial femi- 
nists should not want to be sisters or friends, because such desires “thwart our 
principled calls for heterogeneity in feminism.” 121 

The choice between the sisterhood of friendship and the sisterhood of 
political solidarity is an important one. Multicultural, global, and postcolo- 
nial feminists might need to make this choice once and for all in the future, 
but for now the consensus seems to be a combined approach in which politi- 
cal alliances become opportunities for women to form personal friendships. 
In this connection, Aristotle had some surprisingly good advice for feminists. 
According to the Greek philosopher, there are three kinds of friendship: 
friendship between people who are useful to each other (e.g., professional col- 
leagues); friendship between people who enjoy the same sorts of pleasures 
(e.g., drinking buddies and dance partners); and friendship between people 
who share meaningful goals and tasks (e.g., famine relief workers and women 
against oppression). To be this last kind of friend, said Aristotle, is to be a 
“partner in virtue and a friend in action.” 122 Perhaps this is precisely the kind 
of friends multicultural, global, and postcolonial feminists should want to be. 



7 

Ecofeminism 


Like multicultural, postcolonial, and global feminists, ecofeminists high- 
light the multiple ways in which human beings oppress each other, but 
these theorists also focus on human beings’ domination of the nonhuman 
world, or nature. Because women are culturally tied to nature, ecofemi- 
nists argue there are conceptual, symbolic, and linguistic connections be- 
tween feminist and ecological issues. According to Karen J. Warren, the 
Western world’s basic beliefs, values, attitudes, and assumptions about it- 
self and its inhabitants have been shaped by an oppressive patriarchal con- 
ceptual framework, the purpose of which is to explain, justify, and 
maintain relationships of domination and subordination in general and 
men’s domination of women in particular. The most significant features of 
this framework are: 

1. value-hierarchical thinking, namely, “up-down” thinking, which 
places higher value, status, or prestige on what is “up” rather than on 
what is “down” 

2. value dualisms, that is, disjunctive pairs in which the disjuncts are seen 
as oppositional (rather than as complementary) and exclusive (rather 
than as inclusive) and that place higher value (status, prestige) on one 
disjunct rather than the other (e.g., dualisms that give higher value or 
status to that which has historically been identified as “mind,” “rea- 
son,” and “male” than to that which has historically been identified as 
“body,” “emotion,” and “female”) 

3. logic of domination, that is, a structure of argumentation that leads to 
a justification of subordination. 1 2 3 


237 




238 Chapter 7: Ecofeminism 


Patriarchy’s hierarchical, dualistic, and oppressive mode of thinking has 
harmed both women and nature, in Warren’s opinion. Indeed, because women 
have been “naturalized” and nature has been “feminized,” it is difficult to know 
where the oppression of one ends and the other begins. Warren emphasized 
women are “naturalized” when they are described in animal terms such as 
“cows, foxes, chicks, serpents, bitches, beavers, old bats, pussycats, cats, bird- 
brains, hare-brains.” 2 Similarly, nature is “feminized” when “she” is raped, mas- 
tered, conquered, controlled, penetrated, subdued, and mined by men, or 
when “she” is venerated or even worshipped as the grandest mother of all. If 
man is the lord of nature, if he has been given dominion over it, then he has 
control not only over nature but also over nature’s human analog, woman. 
Whatever man may do to nature, he may also do to woman. 

Similar to the manner in which radical-cultural feminists and radical- 
libertarian feminists disagree about whether women’s association with the 
work of childbearing and child-rearing is ultimately a source of power or 
disempowerment for women, “cultural,” “nature,” or “psychobiologistic” 
ecofeminists disagree with “social-constructionist” or “social-transformative” 
ecofeminists about the wisdom of stressing women’s association with nature. 3 

Yet despite their sometimes divergent views on women’s particular respon- 
sibilities to the environment (must we live as simply as possible?), to animals 
(must we be vegetarians and antivivisectionists?), and to future generations 
(must we be pacifists and strict population controllers?), all ecofeminists 
agree with Rosemary Radford Ruether that women’s and nature’s liberation 
are a joint project: 

Women must see that there can be no liberation for them and no solu- 
tion to the ecological aims within a society whose fundamental model 
of relationships continues to be one of domination. They must unite 
the demands of the women’s movement with those of the ecological 
movement to envision a radical reshaping of the basic socioeconomic 
relations and the underlying values of this [modern industrial] society. 4 


Some Roots of Ecofeminism 

In her 1 962 book, Silent Spring, Rachel Carson warned Americans that unless 
they began to take care of their environment, then “all man’s assaults upon the 
environment [including] the contamination of air, earth, rivers, and sea with 
dangerous and even lethal materials . . . [will undoubtedly] shatter or alter the 
very material . . . upon which the shape of the future depends.” 5 As ecological 



Some Roots of Ecofeminism 239 


concerns about global warming, ozone depletion, waste disposal, animal farm- 
ing, endangered species, energy conservation, and wilderness preservation 
grew, an environmental movement took hold in the United States and 
throughout the world. Though all environmentalists believe human beings 
should respect nature, and give reasons for doing so, “human-centered” envi- 
ronmentalists provide reasons that are based on furthering human interests, 
whereas “earth-centered” environmentalists provide reasons that are based on 
the intrinsic value of the earth itself. 

Human-centered environmentalists emphasize that we harm ourselves 
when we harm the environment. If we exhaust our natural resources or pollute 
our skies and water, not only we but also our progeny will suffer. If we want to 
have the material goods and lifestyles that industrialization makes possible, we 
must devise some means to handle the toxic wastes it produces as a by-product. 
If we want to have the benefit of bountiful and inexpensive energy, we must 
harness new sources of energy like the sun and wind, lest we use the entire sup- 
ply of oil and natural gas currently fueling our economy. If we want to experi- 
ence the wilderness and see uncultivated vegetation and undomesticated 
animals, then we must prevent commercial enterprises from transforming 
every piece of wild land into a Disneyland or Club Med. And if we want to 
preserve the rich diversity of nature and the treasures it might still hold for us, 
then we must safeguard all life-forms, refusing to imperil their existence. 

Viewing themselves as realistic or pragmatic about environmental con- 
cerns, human-centered environmentalists concede that from time to time, 
we may have to sacrifice the environment in order to serve our interests. In 
other words, sometimes a forest must be cut down so we can use the trees to 
build homes; sometimes the air must be polluted so we can continue to drive 
our automobiles; sometimes a predatory species of wild animals must be 
eliminated or relegated to our zoos so our domesticated animals can graze 
safely. In short, the environment’s value is instrumental; its meaning, signifi- 
cance, and purpose depends on our needs or wants. The environment exists 
not for itself but for human beings. 

It is not surprising that critics of human-centered environmentalism con- 
demn it as “arrogant anthropomorphism,” generally faulting the Judeo- 
Christian tradition as one of the main players in the devaluation of the 
environment. They point, for example, to the biblical mandate that in- 
structed men to “subdue” the earth and “have dominion over the fish of the 
sea and over the birds of the air and every living thing that moves upon the 
earth” as promoting the view that nature has instrumental value only. 6 These 
same critics also stress how the metaphors and models of mechanistic sci- 
ence, which gained sway during the pre-Enlightenment and Enlightenment 



240 Chapter 7: Ecofeminism 


periods, reinforced the Bible’s anthropomorphic view of nature. They claim 
that prior to the seventeenth century, we thought of nature organically, as a 
benevolent female or nurturing mother, as someone who gave freely and 
generously of her bounty to us, her children. After the scientific revolution, 
however, we reconceived nature mechanistically, as an inert, lifeless machine. 
As a result of this paradigm shift, we found it easier to justify not only our 
use but also our misuse and abuse of nature. We reasoned that there is noth- 
ing morally wrong with treating a mere “object” in whatever way we wish. 

Rene Descartes’ philosophy, which privileged mind over matter, further 
bolstered the mechanistic conception of nature, according to critics of 
human-centered environmentalism. His belief that our ability to think (“I 
think, therefore I am”) makes us special led to the view that things that think 
{res cogitans, or human beings) are meant to control things that do not think 
(animals, trees, and rocks). Gradually, we convinced ourselves that human 
beings are indeed the highest life-form: the center of the universe. As a result 
of our exalted self-conception, we took it upon ourselves to decide not only 
when to protect and preserve the environment for our use but also when to 
sacrifice it for our greater glory and good. 

Human-centered, or anthropomorphic, environmentalism, sometimes 
termed “shallow ecology,” remained the order of the day until the late 1940s, 
when a new generation of environmentalists forwarded an earth-centered 
environmentalism they termed “deep ecology.” This post-Enlightenment 
view of nature repudiated the modern conception of nature as a machine, 
reverting to medieval and even ancient conceptions of nature as an organism 
that has intrinsic as well as instrumental value. 

In his much- anthologized essay, “The Land Ethic,” Aldo Leopold wrote 
that we should think about the land as “a fountain of energy flowing though a 
circuit of soils, plants, and animals.” 7 Leopold believed the earth is a life sys- 
tem, an intricately interwoven and interdependent intersection of elements 
that functions as a whole organism. If one element of this system becomes 
diseased, the whole system is probably sick, and the only way to heal the sys- 
tem is to treat or cure the diseased part, whether that diseased part is an exces- 
sively flooded plain, a severely overpopulated herd of deer (or human beings), 
or a heavily polluted river. To be sure, a treatment or cure for the diseased ele- 
ment will not always be found, but that is to be expected. In fact, the ecosys- 
tem’s laws of death and decay require that its old elements be extinguished: 
The patterns of regeneration and life continually provide the space necessary 
for new elements of the ecosystem. It is not important for each particular part 
to continue, said Leopold, but only for the whole to continue. 

From nature’s perspective, as opposed to what Leopold called man’s 
perspective, flows an environmental ethics best termed “biocentric” or 



Some Roots of Ecofeminism 241 


“ecocentric.” He claimed “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the in- 
tegrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it 
tends to do otherwise.” 8 To illustrate his point, Leopold gave the example 
of a river sandbar, a very particular and small environmental system. Such 
a system has an identifiable integrity; it is a unity of interdependent ele- 
ments combining together to make a whole with a unique character. It has 
a certain stability, not because it does not change but because it changes 
only gradually. Finally, it has a particular beauty in its harmonious, well- 
ordered form: a unity in diversity. When envisioned on a larger scale, this 
small environmental system interlocks with other small environmental 
systems, together constituting the very large ecosystem of which human 
beings are simply a part. This, the largest of all ecosystems, is none other 
than “nature,” and morality becomes a matter of conscious (or thinking) 
beings’ preserving its integrity, stability, and beauty. 

Leopold’s thinking was at the forefront of the conceptual revolution that 
replaced the anthropomorphism of shallow ecology with the biocentrism of 
deep ecology. Arne Naess and George Sessions articulated the principal 
tenets of deep ecology: 

1 . The well-being and flourishing of human and non-human life on earth 
have value in themselves (synonyms intrinsic value, inherent value). 
These values are independent of the usefulness of the non-human 
world for human purposes. 

2. Richness and diversity of life forms contribute to the realization of 
these values and are also values in themselves. 

3. Humans have no right to reduce this richness and diversity except to 
satisfy vital needs. 

4. The flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substan- 
tial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of non-human 
life requires such a decrease. 

5. Present human interference with the non-human world is excessive, 
and the situation is rapidly worsening. 

6. Policies must therefore be changed. These policies affect basic eco- 
nomic, technological, and ideological structures. The resulting state of 
affairs will be deeply different from the present. 

7. The ideological change is mainly that of appreciating life quality 
(dwelling in situations of inherent value) rather than adhering to an 
increasingly higher standard of living. There will be a profound aware- 
ness of the difference between big and great. 

8. Those who subscribe to the foregoing points have an obligation directly 
or indirectly to try to implement the necessary changes. 9 



242 Chapter 7: Ecofeminism 


Critics of deep ecology fault both the theory underlying deep ecology 
and some of its tactics. They demand to know what the source of nature’s 
intrinsic value is, rejecting the mere fact of nature’s “is-ness” as an inade- 
quate answer to their question. Just because something exists, they say, 
does not make it intrinsically valuable. In an effort to persuade these crit- 
ics that nature is indeed intrinsically valuable, Peter Wenz argued there is 
something intuitively wrong about destroying an ecosystem when there is 
no good reason to do so. He claimed that if the last surviving human be- 
ing after a worldwide disaster had a choice between saving or not saving 
all the remaining plant and animal life on the earth, it would not be “a 
matter of moral indifference” whether the person chose to save these life- 
forms. 10 Although critics of deep ecology agree with Wenz that the earth 
has value independent of us, they do not agree with the view that the 
earth’s interests are equal to or even more important than ours. For exam- 
ple, critic Luc Ferry vehemently objected to some deep ecologists’ pro- 
posal that if we fail or refuse to control the size of our population 
voluntarily, then the government should force us to do so, so that nonhu- 
man animals have enough food and space. Does this mean, asked Ferry, 
that to get the ideal human-nonhuman population ratio, 11 our govern- 
ment should do nothing to stop the kind of “massive human die backs” 
caused by famine, disease, and war? 12 Are we to be handled like an over- 
populated herd of deer? 

Ecofeminism: 

New Philosophy or Ancient Wisdom? 

Ecofeminism is a relatively new variant of ecological ethics. In fact, the term 
ecofeminism first appeared in 1974 in Fran^oise d’Eaubonne’s Le Feminisme 
ou la mort. In this work, she expressed the view that there exists a direct link 
between the oppression of women and the oppression of nature. She claimed 
the liberation of one cannot be effected apart from the liberation of the 
other. 13 A decade or so after Eaubonne coined the term, Karen J. Warren fur- 
ther specified four core assumptions of ecofeminism: 

(1) There are important connections between the oppression of women 
and the oppression of nature; (2) understanding the nature of these 
connections is necessary to any adequate understanding of the oppres- 
sion of women and the oppression of nature; (3) feminist theory and 
practice must include an ecological perspective; and (4) solutions to 
ecological problems must include a feminist perspective. 14 



Tensions in Nature: Ecofeminist Thought 243 


In many ways, ecofeminism resembles deep ecology, yet ecofeminists gen- 
erally fault deep ecologists for missing one crucial point. According to 
ecofeminists, deep ecologists mistakenly oppose anthropocentrism in general 
when the real problem is not so much or only the Western world’s human- 
centeredness, but its »W<?-centeredness. Androcentrism, not anthropomor- 
phism, is the chief enemy of nature. 

Although she praised deep ecologists’ “concerted effort ... to rethink 
Western metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics,” ecofeminist Ariel Kay 
Salleh nonetheless found their rethinking “deficient.” 15 Noting that most of 
deep ecology’s spokespeople are men, Salleh accused them of being afraid to 
confront the sexism as well as naturism causing our current environmental 
crisis. The “deep ecology movement will not truly happen,” she said, “until 
men are brave enough to rediscover and to love the woman inside them- 
selves.” 16 Salleh’s thesis, which is shared by many ecofeminists, is “that the 
hatred of women, which ipso facto brings about that of nature, is one of the 
principal mechanisms governing the actions of men (of males’) and, thus, 
the whole of Western/patriarchal culture.” 17 

Tensions in Nature: 

Ecofeminist Thought 

Although ecofeminists agree that the association of women with nature is the 
root cause of both sexism and naturism, they disagree about whether women’s 
connections to nature are primarily biological and psychological or primarily 
social and cultural. They also disagree about whether women should de- 
emphasize, emphasize, or reconceive their connections with nature. Accord- 
ing to Ynestra King, “the recognition of the connections between women and 
nature and of women’s bridge-like position between nature and culture poses 
three possible directions of feminism.” 18 The first direction is to sever the 
woman-nature connection by totally integrating women into culture and the 
realm of production. The second is to reaffirm the woman-nature connection, 
proposing that female nature is not only different from, but also somehow 
better than, male culture. The third is to transform the woman-nature con- 
nection by using it to create “a different kind of culture and politics that 
would integrate intuitive, spiritual, and rational forms of knowledge . . . and 
create a free, ecological society.” 19 Implicit in King’s understanding of trans- 
formative ecofeminism is the postmodern feminist belief that ultimately all 
forms of human oppression are rooted in those dichotomous conceptual 
schemes that privilege one member of a dyad over another (e.g., male over 
female, nature over culture, science over magic). 



244 Chapter 7: Ecofeminism 


Sever the Woman-Nature Connection 

Simone de Beauvoir. Among the feminists who have pondered women’s as- 
sociation with nature is Simone de Beauvoir. She urged women to transcend 
their links to nature in order to overcome their status as the other, or second, 
sex. De Beauvoir believed woman’s identity as the other is derived partly 
from her biology — especially her reproductive capacity — and partly from her 
socially imposed child-rearing responsibilities. De Beauvoir did not view 
woman’s body as woman’s friend. On the contrary, she viewed woman’s body 
as fundamentally alienating, as an energy drain leaving women too tired to 
participate in the kind of creative activity men enjoy. 20 

Following Jean-Paul Sartre, de Beauvoir stressed that human beings are cast 
in a pour-soi—en-soi dialectic. Pour-soi (being-for-itself) entails being a self, con- 
sciously aware of the possibilities for self-creation that the future presents; en-soi 
(being-in-itself) entails being the other, a thing without a future and therefore 
without any possibilities for transformation. Although all human beings are 
both pour-soi and en-soi. Western culture tends to view men as more likely to be 
mainly pour-soi and women as more likely to be mainly en-soi. 

Because the conflict between the pour-soi and en-soi tendencies in people 
makes them feel anxious, both men and women engage in modes of “bad 
faith” to ignore that they alone are the creators of their destinies. Men seek 
refuge from their freedom in the idea of women’s “it-ness,” or en-soi immanent 
nature. In other words, men see in women what they themselves would like to 
be: persons who simply are and who are therefore relieved of the burdensome 
task of perpetually becoming something new or different or better — persons 
who are finished and thus totally absorbed in their bodies’ repetitive, cyclical 
motion and altogether oblivious of their minds’ urges to transcend the present 
known into the future unknown. 

Knowing full well that they are as free as men, women nonetheless engage 
in bad faith by playing the role of the other. De Beauvoir noted that “along 
with the ethical urge of each individual to affirm his subjective existence, 
there is also the temptation to forgo liberty and become a thing.” 21 If women 
are ever to be liberated from the status of the second sex, they must, she said, 
resist the temptation of the “easy way out.” By refusing to be the other — the 
“it,” the en-soi, the immanent one, the natural one — women will liberate not 
only themselves but also men. No longer will men be able to hide from their 
freedom in the bosom of “woman.” 

Reflecting on de Beauvoir’s suggested program for women’s liberation, 
ecofeminist Val Plumwood reproached de Beauvoir for giving women who 
care about nature the wrong advice: 



Tensions in Nature: Ecofeminist Thought 245 


For Simone de Beauvoir woman is to become fully human in the same 
way as man, by joining him in distancing from and in transcending and 
controlling nature. She opposes male transcendence and conquering of 
nature to woman’s immanence, being identified with and passively im- 
mersed in nature and the body. The “full humanity” to be achieved by 
woman involves becoming part of the superior sphere of the spirit and 
dominating and transcending nature and physicality, the sphere of free- 
dom and controllability, in contrast to being immersed in nature and in 
blind uncontrollability. Woman becomes “fully human” by being ab- 
sorbed in a masculine sphere of freedom and transcendence conceptual- 
ized in human-chauvinist terms. 22 

Plumwood feared that by rejecting the en-soi realm, the world of imma- 
nence, women will gain not true personhood but merely the opportunity to 
become men’s full partners in the campaign to control or dominate nature. 
The male-female dichotomy will not be bridged or healed into wholeness. 
Rather, the female member of this long-standing dyad will simply be erased 
into the male member. Moreover, the culture-nature dichotomy will not be 
eliminated, but instead will be worsened. Abandoned by woman, nature will 
find itself utterly defenseless against the forces of culture. 

Sherry B. Ortner. According to another feminist, Sherry B. Ortner, it will 
not be easy for women to disassociate themselves from nature, since virtually 
all societies believe women are closer to nature than men are. There are, she 
said, three reasons for the near universality of this belief. First, women’s physiol- 
ogy is “more involved more of the time with the ‘species of life’; it is woman’s 
body that nurtures humanity’s future.” Second, women’s primary place remains 
the domestic sphere, where “animal-like infants” are slowly transformed into 
cultural beings and where plant and animal products are shaped into food, 
clothing, and shelter. Third, women’s psyche, “appropriately molded to mother- 
ing functions by her own socialization,” tends toward more relational, con- 
crete, and particular modes of thinking than do men’s psyches. 23 

In Ortner’s opinion, virtually every society’s view of women as somehow 
existing between nature and culture has several consequences, each of them 
inviting a different interpretation of the term intermediate. First, intermediate 
can simply mean that women have a “middle status,” lower than men’s status 
but higher than nature’s status. Second, it can mean that women “mediate,” 
or perform some set of synthesizing or converting functions between nature 
and culture — for example, the socialization of children. Unless children are 
properly socialized, no society can survive; it needs its members to conform 



246 Chapter 7: Ecofeminism 


to its rules and regulations. For this reason, hypothesized Ortner, societies seek to 
restrict women’s sexual, reproductive, educational, and occupational choices. 
The more conservative women are, the more rule-following they and their chil- 
dren will be. Third, and finally, the term intermediate can mean “of greater sym- 
bolic ambiguity.” Because society cannot quite understand the nature of women, 
it is not certain whether to associate women with life or death, good or evil, order 
or chaos. 24 Do women hold society together, or do they chip away at its margins? 

Society’s view that women are intermediaries between culture and nature is, 
said Ortner, the product of women’s “social actuality” — that is, women’s physi- 
ology, domestic role, and feminine psyche. Thus, the way to alter this view of 
women is to change women’s social actuality so that women as well as men are 
viewed as fully cultural persons capable of determining the course of history. 
Unfortunately, continued Ortner, women’s social actuality cannot change 
unless society’s view of women as intermediaries between culture and nature 
changes. Women will never escape this circular trap unless their situation is si- 
multaneously attacked from both sides: from the social actuality side (women’s 
reproductively special physiology, domestic role, and feminine psyche) and the 
conceptual or ideological side (women as occupying middle status, as perfor- 
ming mediating functions between nature and culture, as carrying ambiguous 
symbolic baggage). Explaining her point at some length, Ortner claimed: 

Efforts directed solely at changing the social institutions — through setting 
quotas on hiring, for example, or through passing equal-pay-for-equal- 
work laws — cannot have far-reaching effects if cultural language and im- 
agery continue to purvey a relatively devalued view of women. But at the 
same time efforts directed solely at changing cultural assumptions — 
through male and female consciousness-raising groups, for example, or 
through revision of education materials and mass-media imagery — cannot 
be successful unless the institutional base of the society is changed to sup- 
port and reinforce the changed cultural view. 25 

Ortner believed that the effect of this two-pronged attack on women’s 
situation would be to involve both men and women equally “in projects of 
creativity and transcendence.” At last, women as well as men would be seen 
as “cultural,” and women no less than men would participate “in culture’s 
ongoing dialectic with nature.” 26 

Like de Beauvoir’s line of reasoning, Ortner’s led to the conclusion that 
women can be liberated without nature’s being liberated. Had Ortner 
thought otherwise, she would have argued not only that women are just as 
“cultural” as men but also that men are just as “natural” as women. In other 



Tensions in Nature: Ecofeminist Thought 247 


words, she would have aimed to change men’s societal actuality and the ide- 
ology that supports it as much as she aimed to change women’s. If society 
needs to bridge women’s “distance” from culture by involving women in 
“creative” and “transcendent” tasks, then it also needs to bridge men’s dis- 
tance from nature by involving men in “repetitive” and “immanent” tasks. 

Reaffirm the Woman-Nature Connection 

Mary Daly: Gyn/Ecology. In general, ecofeminists with a radical-cultural 
feminist background seek to strengthen rather than weaken women’s connec- 
tions to nature. Unlike de Beauvoir and Ortner, nature ecofeminists like Mary 
Daly believe the traits traditionally associated with women — such as caring, 
nurturing, and intuitiveness — are not so much the result of social constructions 
as the product of women’s actual biological and psychological experiences. The 
problem is not that women have a closer relationship with nature than men do, 
but that this relationship is undervalued. Nature ecofeminists reject the assumed 
inferiority of both women and nature as well as the assumed superiority of both 
men and culture. Instead, they insist nature/woman is at least equal to and per- 
haps even better than culture/man, implying that traditional female virtues, not 
traditional male virtues, can foster improved social relations and less aggressive, 
more sustainable ways of life. 

As Mary Daly moved toward a lesbian separatist feminism perspective, 
she began to reject male culture as evil and to embrace female culture as 
good. She speculated that before the establishment of patriarchy, there ex- 
isted an original matriarchy. In this gynocentric world, women flourished. 
They controlled their own lives, bonded with each other and with the non- 
human world of animals and nature, and lived both freely and happily. Thus, 
Daly saw the process of women’s liberation as putting women back in touch 
with women’s original “wild” and “lusty” natural world and freeing them 
from men’s “domesticating” and “dispiriting” cultural world. 27 

Daly contrasted women’s life-giving powers with men’s death-dealing pow- 
ers. She claimed women have the capacity for a fully human life, a vigorous life 
lived in dynamic communion with animals, earth, and stars. Men, she main- 
tained, lack this capacity. They are, she said, parasites who feed off women’s 
energy to fuel their destructive activities and constricting thoughts. Because 
they cannot bring life into the world and are incapable of bonding with nature, 
men substitute artificial life for flesh-and-blood life and, in acts of envious rage 
directed against women, seek not only to control and destroy women but also to 
control and destroy all that is natural. Male culture is everything female nature 
is not; it is about disease and death rather than health and life, said Daly: 



248 Chapter 7: Ecofeminism 


The products of necrophilic Apollonian male mating are of course the techno- 
logical “offspring” which pollute the heavens and the earth. Since the passion 
of necrophiliacs is for the destruction of life and since their attraction is to all 
that is dead, dying, and purely mechanical, the fathers’ fetishized “fetuses” (re- 
productions/replicas of themselves), with which they passionately identify, are 
fatal for the future of this planet. Nuclear reactors and the poisons they pro- 
duce, stockpiles of atomic bombs, ozone-destroying aerosol spray propellants, 
oil tankers “designed” to self-destruct in the ocean, iatrogenic medications and 
carcinogenic food additives, refined sugar, mind pollutants of all kinds — these 
are the multiple fetuses/feces of stale male-mates in love with a dead world that 
is ultimately co-equal and consubstantial with themselves. The excrement of 
Exxon is everywhere. It is ominously omnipresent. 28 

Daly linked men’s pollution of nature with men’s “pollution” of women, con- 
trasting men’s gynecology with women’s gyn/ecology. Men’s gynecology is about 
segmenting and specializing reproduction as if it was just another mode of pro- 
duction; it is about substituting the fake for the real, the artificial for the natural; 
it is about cutting whole into parts. In contrast, women’s gyn/ecology is about 
“dis-covering, de-veloping the complex web of living/loving relationships of our 
own kind. It is about women living, loving, creating our Selves, our cosmos.” 29 
Whereas men’s gynecology depends upon “fixation and dismemberment,” 
women’s gyn/ecology affirms everything is connected. 30 According to Daly, 
women must work hard to stop the patriarchal forces of necrophilia — that is, of 
death. Most women, she claimed, have been seduced into cooperating with the 
“phallocentric” system of “necrophilia”; they have become men’s “fembots,” per- 
mitting themselves to be drained of their life forces. 31 In the days of matriarchy 
Daly said, women reproduced through parthenogenesis, their eggs dividing and 
developing independendy of sperm. Now, in the days of patriarchy men have 
persuaded women to exchange natural reproduction for artificial reproduction. 
Men have invited women to enter a world in which male gynecologists snatch 
women’s eggs from women’s wombs in order to hatch them in technology’s 
wombs, or artificial placentae. With this “advance” in science, said Daly, men 
move closer to achieving what they really seek — death — and unless women re- 
fuse to become men’s “fembots,” men will consume them together with nature. 32 

Susan Griffin. Although Susan Griffin did not claim there are biological con- 
nections between women and nature, she did claim there are ontological connec- 
tions between women and nature. 33 Specifically Griffin wrote: “We know 
ourselves to be made from this earth. We know this earth is made from our bod- 
ies. For we see ourselves. And we are nature. We are nature seeing nature. We are 
nature with a concept of nature. Nature weeping. Nature speaking of nature to 



Tensions in Nature: Ecofeminist Thought 249 


nature.” 34 In addition to implying women have a special way of knowing and 
perceiving reality because of their special connections to nature, Griffin sug- 
gested it is women who must help human beings escape the false and destruc- 
tive dualistic world into which men, particularly male Western philosophers, 
have led us. 

In particular, Griffin used poetry to challenge dualistic thinking, instru- 
mental rationality, and unbridled technology. She countered the objective, 
dispassionate, and disembodied voice of male culture with the subjective, pas- 
sionate, embodied voice of female culture. If men can identify with machines 
and wonder whether machines (e.g., computers and robots) have feelings as 
well as thoughts, then women can identify with animals and wonder whether 
animals have thoughts as well as feelings. In Woman and Nature, Griffin often 
spoke through the voice of an animal: 

He says that woman speaks with nature. That she hears voices from under 
the earth. That wind blows in her ears and trees whisper to her. That the 
dead sing through her mouth and the cries of infants are clear to her. But for 
him this dialogue is over. He says he is not part of this world, that he was set 
on this world as a stranger. He sets himself apart from woman and nature. 

And so it is Goldilocks who goes to the home of the three bears, Little 
Red Riding Hood who converses with the wolf, Dorothy who befriends a 
lion, Snow White who talks to the birds, Cinderella with mice as her allies, 
the Mermaid who is half fish, Thumbelina courted by a mole. (And when 
we hear in the Navaho chant of the mountain that a grown man sits and 
smokes with bears and follows directions given to him by squirrels, we are sur- 
prised. We had thought only little girls spoke with animals.) 

We are the bird’s eggs. Bird’s eggs, flowers, butterflies, rabbits, cows, sheep; 
we are caterpillars; we are leaves of ivy and sprigs of wallflower. We are women. 

We rise from the wave. We are gazelle and doe, elephant and whale, lilies and 
roses and peach, we are air, we are flame, we are oyster and pearl, we are girls. 

We are woman and nature. And he says he cannot hear us speak. 

But we hearN 

Griffin sought to overcome dualism by providing what David Maccauley 
has termed an “antidote to Plato’s epistemological hierarchy.” In his Republic, 
Plato led Western man out of what the philosopher regarded as an inferior 
sensory realm, the world of appearances, into what he regarded as a superior 
intellectual realm, the world of forms. In this latter world, ideas such as 
beauty, truth, and goodness supposedly reside. However, in book 1 of 
Woman and Nature, Griffin suggested Plato led us astray by his incorrectly 
insisting that spirit is superior to matter and by prompting us to view man as 



250 Chapter 7: Ecofeminism 


mind and woman as body. Plato’s dualistic hierarchy, stressed Griffin, is be- 
hind Western’s society’s view that women are men’s inferiors. 36 

Emphasizing the links between men’s ideas about nature and their attitudes 
toward women, Griffin saw similarities between men’s domestication of animals 
and domestication of women. She also noted ways in which women have either 
actively participated in or passively accepted their own “taming.” For example, 
in a chapter entitled “Cows: The Way We Yield,” Griffin suggested that the 
words used to describe a cow can be used equally well to describe a woman: 

She is a great cow. She stands in the midst of her own soft flesh, her 
thighs great wide arches, round columns, her hips wide enough for calv- 
ing, sturdy, rounded, swaying, stupefied mass, a cradle, a waving field of 
nipples, her udder brushing the grass, a great cow, who thinks nothing, 
who waits to be milked, year after year, who delivers up calves, who 
stands ready for the bull, who is faithful, always there, yielding at the 
same hour, day after day, that warm substance, the milk white of her eye, 
staring, trusting, sluggish, bucolic, inert, bovine mind dozing and dream- 
ing, who lays open her flesh, like a drone, for the use of the world. 37 

Asked why she chose to describe women in terms of domestic rather than 
wild animals, Griffin responded that her two-year experience as a house- 
bound wife and mother caused her to identify with domestic animals, whom 
she viewed as well taken care of but decidedly unfree. 38 

Viewing Western thought’s decision to privilege culture (man) over nature 
(woman) as a disastrous one, Griffin proceeded in book 2 of Woman and Nature 
to discuss all the conceptual rifts that Platonic philosophy generated: mind- 
body, intellect-emotion, city-wilderness, knower-known. She also critiqued sci- 
entific knowledge, ridiculing the importance men attach to numbers, in 
particular how men quantify everything in the universe and in their possession. 
Everything is reducible to a sum, a statistic, a cost-benefit ratio, said Griffin. 
Horrified by the thought of a world ruled by and reduced to numbers, Griffin 
urged women to journey out of culture — the labyrinth of dualistic thinking — 
back into nature, the cave where matter and spirit merge into one, the true 
habitat of human beings who are more than mere “ideas.” 

Finally, in the third and fourth books of Woman and Nature, Griffin 
claimed we can overcome the kind of thinking that belittles nature, material- 
ity, the body, and women, but only if women learn to speak for themselves 
and for the natural world. She insisted we need to replace “his certainty” — 
quantity, probability, and gravity — with (her?) “possibility”; his “land” and 
“timber” with “this earth” and “the forest”; and his reason with her emotion: 



Tensions in Nature: Ecofeminist Thought 251 


They said that in order to discover truth, they must find ways to separate 
feeling from thought Because we were less That measurements and criteria 
must be established free from emotional bias Because they said our brains 
were smaller That these measurements can be computed Because we were 
built closer to the ground according to universal laws Because according to 
their tests we think more slowly, because according to their criteria our bodies 
are more like the bodies of animals, because according to their calculations we 
can lift less weight, work longer hours, suffer more pain, they said, constitute 
objectivity because we are more emotional than they are and based they said 
only on what because our behavior is observed to be like the behavior of chil- 
dren is observably true because we lack the capacity to be reasonable and 
emotions they said must be distrusted because we are filled with rage that 
where emotions color thought because we cry out thought is no longer ob- 
jective because we are shaking and therefore no longer describes what is 
real shaking in our rage because we are shaking in our rage and we are no 
longer reasonable , 39 

Nature has a value that cannot be reduced to its usefulness to culture, and 
woman has a value that cannot be reduced to her usefulness to man. 

In some of her later work, Griffin revisited the nature-culture dichotomy, 
depicting pornography as culture’s revenge against nature as well as men’s re- 
venge against women. “We will see,” said Griffin, “that the bodies of women 
in pornography, mastered, bound, silenced, beaten, even murdered, are sym- 
bols for natural feeling and the powers of nature which the pornographic 
mind hates and fears.” 40 Commenting on Griffin’s analysis of the porno- 
graphic mind, David Maccauley urged us to ask ourselves, 

Whether there now exists ... a kind of earth pornography, since the gen- 
dered planet, the “mother of life” or “our nurse” as Plato referred to it, is 
not only violated literally by strip mining, deforestation, and radioactive 
waste but subjected increasingly to the circulation of a voyeuristic media — 
as the image of a bounded, blue sphere is re-placed (away from natural con- 
text) on billboards or commercials in order to sell computers, hamburgers, 
or candidate’s positions.” 41 

Just as women’s violated bodies are used to sell all sorts of commodities, 
such as cars, boats, and designer jeans, so, too, is nature’s violated “body” 
similarly used. Women, implied Griffin, must refuse to let themselves and 
nature be exploited in such ways. Reform, indeed revolution, begins with 
saying no to what is in order to seek what might be. 



252 Chapter 7: Ecofeminism 


Spiritual Ecofeminism 

Closely allied to radical-cultural ecofeminists are a variety of so-called spiritual 
ecofeminists. 42 Inspired by Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology and Rosemary Radford 
Ruether’s New Woman, New Earth, they insist that no matter which theology, re- 
ligion, or spirituality women adopt, it must be an embodied rather than a disem- 
bodied way of relating to the ultimate source or deepest wellspring of meaning. 
Implicit in the thought of most spiritual ecofeminists is the view that unless pa- 
triarchal religions such as Judaism and Christianity can purge themselves of the 
idea of an omnipotent, disembodied male spirit, women should abandon the op- 
pressive confines of their synagogues and churches and run to the open spaces of 
nature, where they can practice any one of several earth-based spiritualities. 

Although spiritual ecofeminists draw strength from a variety of earth-based 
spiritualities, these thinkers tend to gravitate toward ancient goddess worship and 
nature-oriented Native American ritual. They believe that cultures that view the 
female body as sacred also view nature as sacred, honoring its cycles and rhythms. 
Spiritual ecofeminists often draw an analogy between the role of women in bio- 
logical production and the role of an archetypal “Earth Mother” or “birth- 
mother” (usually referred to as “Gaia”) in giving life and creating all that exists. 43 
Because womens role is analogous to Gaia’s role, women’s relationship to nature 
is privileged over men’s relationship to nature, according to spiritual ecofeminists. 

Starhawk 

Among the best-known spiritual ecofeminists who stress the woman-nature 
link is Starhawk, a Wiccan priestess, social activist, and psychotherapist. In one 
of her poems, she wrote that nature’s and women’s work are one and the same: 

Out of the bone, ash 
Out of the ash, pain 
Out of the pain, the swelling 
Out of the swelling, the opening 
Out of the opening, the labor 
Out of the labor, the birth 
Out of the birth, the turning 
wheel the turning tide. 44 

Through their uniquely female bodily experiences — their monthly 
menses, the demanding symbiosis of pregnancy, the pain of childbirth, and 
the pleasure of breast-feeding their infants — women supposedly come to 
know, in a way men cannot, that human beings are one with nature. 



Spiritual Ecofeminism 253 


Starhawk claimed that the kind of earth-based spirituality she practices as a 
witch — that is, a woman charged with the task and possessing the skill to 
“bend” and “reshape” Western culture — provides a good deal of the energy still 
left in the feminist movement. 45 In her estimation, earth-based spirituality has 
three core concepts. The first is immanence. The Goddess is in the living world, 
in the human, animal, plant, and mineral communities. Therefore, each being 
has value, and each conscious being also has power. Understood not as power 
over but as power from within, this power is “the inherent ability ... to 
become what we are meant to be — as a seed has within it the inherent power to 
root, grow, flower, and fruit.” 46 We grow in this kind of creative power, 
claimed Starhawk, when we take on responsibility for everyone and everything 
to which we are related and also when we strive to achieve personal integrity by 
prioritizing our needs and those of our entire relational network. Spirituality is 
not an “opiate”; it is an energizer and stimulus to action. She explained: 
“When what’s going on is the poisoning and destruction of the earth, our own 
personal development requires that we grapple with that and do something to 
stop it, to turn the tide and heal the planet.” 47 

The second feature of earth-based spirituality is interconnection and the 
expanded view of self it encourages. Not only are our bodies natural, but so, 
too, are our minds. Starhawk stressed: “Our human capacities of loyalty and 
love, rage and humor, lust, intuition, intellect, and compassion are as much a 
part of nature as the lizards and the redwood forests.” 48 The more we under- 
stand that we are nature, she wrote, the more we will understand our oneness 
with all that exists: human beings, natural cycles and processes, animals, and 
plants. We will make the mistake neither of allying ourselves with human beings 
against nature nor of allying ourselves with nature against human beings, as 
some environmentalists do when they engage in extreme forms of so-called 
ecoterrorism. Killing animal-research scientists in the name of animal liberation 
is no better than killing animals to find cures for the diseases threatening human 
beings. There is, implied Starhawk, almost always a way to serve the interests of 
one and all. Our own interests “are linked to black people in South Africa as 
well as to forest-dwellers in the Amazon, and . . . their interests in turn are not 
separate from those of the eagle, the whale, and the grizzly bear.” 49 

The third and probably most important feature of earth-based spirituality 
is the kind of compassionate lifestyle many women lead. Starhawk claimed that 
unless all people adopt this type of lifestyle, which requires them to care for 
each other, we can forget about “reweaving the world” or “healing the 
wounds.” Thus, she faulted deep ecologist Daniel Connor for suggesting “the 
AIDS virus may be Gaia’s tailor-made answer to human overpopulation,” as 
well as deep ecologist Dave Foreman for opposing the provision of famine re- 
lief to starving African nations: “When environmentalists applaud the demise 



254 Chapter 7: Ecofeminism 


of Africans and homosexuals, they ally themselves with the same interests that 
are killing people of color, gay people, women, and other vulnerable groups. 
Those same interests are destroying the earth’s ecosystems and raping the 
wilderness.” 50 According to Starhawk, spiritual ecofeminists — especially those 
who regard themselves as witches — bring to the environmental movement a 
compassionate perspective that permits them “to identify powerlessness and 
the structures that perpetuate it as the root cause of famine, of overpopula- 
tion, of the callous destruction of the natural environment.” 51 

The nature-culture dichotomy, indeed all dichotomies, must be dissolved 
so we can appreciate the “oneness” of reality. Starhawk implied, however, 
that it is not a matter of indifference how this oneness is achieved. Culture 
ought to be subsumed into nature rather than vice versa, for unless we all live 
more simply, masses of people will not be able to live at all. Like Ruether 
(quoted below), Starhawk viewed the present distribution of the world’s 
wealth among people as shockingly unjust: 

The 225 richest people in the world have a combined wealth of over $1 
trillion, equal to the annual income of the poorest 50 percent of humanity 
or 2.5 billion people, while the richest three people have assets that exceed 
that of the forty-eight poorest nations. This means, in terms of absolute 
levels of poverty, that in 1999 almost half of the world’s population was 
living on less than $2 a day, and more than 20 percent of the world, 1.2 
billion people, on less than $1 a day according to World Bank figures. 52 

In view of such statistics, Starhawk urged people committed to world 
justice and ecological sustainability to engage in direct action movements 
such as the massive anti- World Trade Organization protests that started in 
Seattle in November 1999. She also recommended that social justice ac- 
tivists use the communication media, in particular the Internet and cell 
phones, to make visible and audible to people the sights and sounds of hu- 
man poverty. 

Starhawk had an ambitious program for achieving social justice. She insisted 
that, starting in their own local communities, activists must take the five follow- 
ing steps to achieve a sustainable economy: (1) They must shift away from oil 
and coal to renewable, clean forms of energy (solar and wind); (2) they must 
stop relying on machines to do their work for them and start relying on their 
own muscle power; (3) they must get serious about recycling the waste side of 
consumption and production; (4) they must resist the forces of “monoculture,” 
instead affirming and strengthening different cultures; (5) and they must learn 
to do more with less resources. 53 



Spiritual Ecofeminism 255 


Starhawk admitted that, initially, it would be difficult for people to forsake 
the creative comforts and luxuries of todays high-end, unsustainable economies. 
Still, she believed that as people started to lead simpler lives, they would discover 
there is more to life than possessing things. Starhawk urged women to take the 
lead in the save-the-earth movement, bringing as many men into it as possible: 

The labor is hard, the night is long 
We are midwives, and men who tend 
the birth and bond with the child. 

We are birthing, and being born 
We are trying to perform an act of 
magic — 

To pull a living child out of a near-corpse of the mother we are 
Simultaneously poisoning, who is ourselves. 54 

With Mary Daly, Starhawk declared her absolute opposition to the forces 
of death (necrophilia) and her wholehearted affirmation of life. 

Carol Christ 

Like Starhawk, Carol Christ is a “pagan” spiritual ecofeminist. Christ consis- 
tently sought to replace the God of patriarchy (omniscient, omnipotent, and 
immutable) with a Goddess of humanity (learning, fallible, and constantly 
changing). She wanted people to practice Goddess religion, that is, the effort to 
imaginatively reconstruct the egalitarian harmony between humans and nature 
that existed in supposedly nonhierarchical, prepatriarchal times. For Christ, 
hierarchical thinking and its alienating dualisms have been our undoing. By 
tapping into the power of the Goddess in ourselves — a “Goddess” she defined 
as the lure to goodness — we can help each other overcome the alienated and 
hostile relations that characterize our power-hungry world. 

Interestingly, Christ did not guarantee us success in our efforts to become 
more egalitarian and loving. She saw the web of good human relationships, 
including good human relationships with nature, as a fragile one in contin- 
ual need of repair. But rather than despairing at the thought of people end- 
lessly trying to fix faltering human relationships, Christ embraced this 
thought as providing us with our meaning and purpose. She suggested we 
rise each morning with the following greeting to the sun: “As this day dawns 
in beauty, we pledge ourselves to repair the web.” 55 

Like spiritual ecofeminists in general, Christ believed that by connecting 
to nature — its beauty, mystery, complexity — we can be inspired to be better 



256 Chapter 7: Ecofeminism 


(i.e., more loving) people. We do not need an all-powerful rule giver, armed 
with laws and punishments for rule breakers, to force us to be good. On the 
contrary. We need only the Goddess — that is, the energy of human creativity 
and transformation within themselves — to want to be good. 

Transformative Ecofeminism 

Unlike nature ecofeminists and spiritual ecofeminists, social-constructionist 
ecofeminists sought to transform the nature-woman connection. They 
claimed that women’s connection to nature is socially constructed and ideo- 
logically reinforced. Because this is so, women can help transform the mean- 
ing of their connection to both nature and culture. 

Dorothy Dinnerstein 

Western dichotomous thought, said Dorothy Dinnerstein, must be exploded 
if there is to be an end to the oppression of everyone and everything cur- 
rently devalued. This explosion must begin with the deconstruction of the 
male-female dichotomy, for it is the fundamental source of “the silent hatred 
of Mother Earth which breathes side by side with our love for her, and 
which, like the hate we feel for our human mothers, poisons our attachment 
to life.” 56 Dinnerstein claimed that as a result of our nearly exclusively female 
practice of mothering, all infants (be they male or female) come to view 
women as responsible for both their most positive and their most negative 
feelings. At times, mothers meet their children’s needs immediately and com- 
pletely, totally satisfying and soothing their offspring. At other times, how- 
ever, mothers fail to meet their children’s needs, thereby discomforting, 
frustrating, or angering the children. As it is with mothers — that is, 
women — so it is with nature, the realm of reality with which women are 
identified. Mother Nature can bestow blessings on human beings, but she 
can also mete out harms and hardships to them: hurricanes, volcanoes, 
floods, fires, famines, disease, death. Thus, the only way for human beings — 
especially men, who do not bodily resemble the mother in the ways women 
do — to deal with “the mother” or “nature” is to seek to control her, to sepa- 
rate her from all that is male or identified as masculine, including culture. 

Dinnerstein asserted, however, that the attempt to exclude women and 
nature from men and culture has caused us (she includes women as com- 
plied in this psychopathological arrangement) not only to “ maim and exploit 
women, and stunt and deform men ” but also to proceed “ toward the final 
matricide — the rageful, greedy murder of the planet that spawned us . ” 57 Bor- 
rowing an idea from Lewis Mumford, she observed that most of us are firm 



Transformative Ecofeminism 257 


believers in the “megamachine” myth. This myth espouses the view that 
human beings can use their minds and tools not only to extend control over 
nature and everything identified with nature — woman, the body, life, death, 
and so on — but also to make huge monetary profits in doing so. According 
to Dinnerstein, this myth will continue to rule our thoughts and actions 
unless we end the present division of the world into male and female (culture 
and nature) and the assignments of women to nature (child-rearing as well as 
childbearing) and men to culture (world building). Women must bring 
nature into culture (by entering the public world), and men must bring cul- 
ture into nature (by entering the private world). Then and only then will we 
see that men and women (culture and nature) are one and that it is counter- 
productive for half of reality to try to dominate the other half. A reality, 
divided and at war with itself, cannot and will not survive. Thus, Dinner- 
stein proclaimed, “The core meaning of feminism . . . lies, at this point, in 
its relations to earthly life’s survival.” 58 Unless men and women get their act 
together and start behaving like adults instead of infants, the human species 
can expect a rapid demise. 

Karen J. Warren 

Like Dinnerstein, Karen J. Warren emphasized that the dualisms threatening 
to destroy us are social constructions. In a capitalist, patriarchal society, 
women and nature, men and culture, have certain meanings, but these mean- 
ings are far from necessary. They would be very different in a socialist, nonpa- 
triarchal society. For example, they would be very different in the kind of 
society Marge Piercy posited in Woman on the Edge of Time, a work of fiction 
in which people rejected all dualisms, beginning with the male-female di- 
chotomy (see Chapter 2). In Mattapoisett, Piercy s utopia that we described 
earlier, babies are born from brooders and raised by three co-mothers (of both 
sexes). Since both men and women mother — the men even lactate and 
nurse — both men and women also work. Piercy’s society is also one in which 
the line between nature and culture is largely nonexistent. Although Mat- 
tapoisett is agriculturally oriented, it is also technologically advanced. Almost 
totally mechanized factories do the society’s drudge work and heavy labor, 
producing the tools and commodities necessary to sustain a system of military 
defense (not offense), agricultural production, a limited (nonpolluting) trans- 
portation system, and a comfortable lifestyle for everyone. People’s work is 
both socially useful and personally rewarding, and there is nothing that 
resembles a sexual division of labor. Work is based entirely on people’s abilities 
and proclivities, with a modicum of unpleasant work (e.g., waste disposal) 
equally distributed to all people. As the result of serious efforts to control the 



258 Chapter 7: Ecofeminism 


size of the population, Mattapoisett’s communities are small, self-sufficient, 
and very democratic. People have time for play as well as work. Indeed, in- 
habitants of Mattapoisett are anything but workaholics. They enjoy both the 
serenity of the natural world and the excitement of the “holies,” a highly de- 
veloped cinematic/multisensory experience. Persons are both masculine and 
feminine; society is both natural and cultural. 59 

Wanting very much to reconceptualize nature and culture as well as man and 
woman, Warren claimed feminists must be ecofeminists — without insisting, as 
Piercy did, that women must forsake their special role in biological reproduc- 
tion. 60 Warren argued that, logically, feminism is just as much a movement to 
end naturism as it is a movement to end sexism: 

(Cl) Feminism is a movement to end sexism. 

(C2) But sexism is conceptually linked with naturism (through an oppres- 
sive conceptual framework characterized by a logic of domination). 

(C3) Thus, feminism is (also) a movement to end naturism. 61 

All forms of oppression are interlocked and intertwined. Oppression is a 
many-headed beast that will continue to exist and regenerate itself until human 
beings manage completely to behead it. 

Focusing on the kind of ethics currently informing environmentalism, War- 
ren noted there are within it many sexist elements, or male biases, that under- 
mine its ability to “save the earth.” Only an ecofeminist ethics — an ethics free 
of androcentric as well as anthropocentric distortions — can overcome naturism 
once and for all. Such an ethics, said Warren, must be a “care-sensitive 
ethics.” 62 

In elaborating her preferred ecofeminist ethics, Warren claimed it had 
eight “necessary” or “boundary” conditions. First, an ecofeminist ethics is a 
theory-in-process that evolves together with people. Second, an ecofeminist 
ethics is entirely “opposed to any ‘ism’ that presupposes or advances a logic of 
domination.” 63 No thread of sexism, racism, classism, naturism, or other ism 
may be woven into the ecofeminist quilt. Third, and very importantly, an 
ecofeminist ethics is a contextualist ethics that invites people to narrate their 
relationships: to specify hou> they relate to humans, nonhuman animals, and 
nature. Fourth, if it is anything, said Warren, an ecofeminist ethics is an in- 
clusivist ethics that acknowledges, respects, and welcomes difference. Unlike 
an exclusivist ethics, an inclusivist ethics is empirically unbiased; that is, it 
passes the “R-4 test” for good generalizations about different sorts of human 
beings, nonhuman animals, and nature. 64 By making sure that its empirical 
claims are based on data that is (1) representative, (2) random, (3) the right 



Transformative Ecofeminism 259 


size, and (4) replicable, continued Warren, an inclusivist ethics avoids the 
biases that characterize an exclusivist ethics. Fifth, an ecofeminist ethics does 
not aim to be “objective,” even though, as we just noted, it does aim to be 
unbiased. 65 To be unbiased is not to be neutral. Rather, it is to be eager to 
incorporate all perspectives, particularly perspectives that might otherwise 
not get voiced, into its consciousness. Sixth, an ecofeminist ethics, according 
to Warren, views the values of care, love, friendship, and appropriate trust as 
the core values of all ethics. Seventh, an ecofeminist ethics aims to redefine 
both what it means to be a truly human person and what it means to make a 
decision ethically. Eighth, and most importantly, an ecofeminist ethics is not 
based on reason to the exclusion of emotion but on an intelligence that 
requires reason and emotion to work together and to be recognized as 
equally important in ethical decision making. 66 

By working within the framework of the kind of ethics just described, 
claimed Warren, ecofeminists can learn to relate to nonhumans in ways that 
overcome the nature-culture split. In one example, intended to illustrate this 
type of overcoming, Warren contrasted rock climbers who climb in order to 
conquer mountains and rock climbers who climb in order to know moun- 
tains (and therefore themselves) in new ways. When an ecofeminist climbs a 
mountain, said Warren, the climber assumes he or she has a genuine relation- 
ship to it. The person’s concern is not in showing the mountain who is boss 
by conquering it but in becoming its friend, someone who cares about it. 
Thus, an ecofeminist does not look at the mountain with an “arrogant eye,” 
viewing it as a hunk of inert matter trying to exhaust, and thereby get the 
best of her or him. Rather, an ecofeminist sees it with a “loving eye,” viewing 
it as a unique reality with much to tell the climber about his or her strengths 
and weaknesses. 67 

In another example, Warren told the story of a young Sioux boy sent by 
his father to learn “the old Indian ways” from his grandfather. Among other 
things, the boy’s grandfather taught him how to hunt by instructing him 

to shoot your four-legged brother in his hind area, slowing it down but 
not killing it. Then, take the four-legged’s head in your hands, and look 
into his eyes. The eyes are where all the suffering is. Look into your 
brother’s eyes and feel his pain. Then, take your knife and cut the four- 
legged under his chin, here, on his neck, so that he dies quickly. And as 
you do, ask your brother, the four-legged, for forgiveness for what you 
do. Offer also a prayer of thanks to your four-legged kin for offering his 
body to you just now, when you need food to eat and clothing to wear. 
And promise the four-legged that you will put yourself back into the 



260 Chapter 7: Ecofeminism 


earth when you die, to become nourishment for the earth, and for the sis- 
ter flowers, and for the brother deer. It is appropriate that you should of- 
fer this blessing for the four-legged and, in due time, reciprocate in turn 
with your body in this way, as the four-legged gives life to you for your 
survival. 68 

The lesson the Sioux grandfather taught his grandson about hunting is 
clearly far more ecofeminist (antinaturist and antisexist) than the lesson the 
typical “great white hunter” would teach his grandson about hunting for the 
fun or sport of it, for the pleasure of the kill. The Sioux hunting lesson is one 
that informs us how people whose conceptual schemes are not oppositional 
see themselves in relationship to nonhuman nature. Nevertheless, the Sioux 
hunting lesson is not fully ecofeminist, for it does not proceed from a gender 
analysis. Moreover, it arose in a culture that treats women as less than men’s 
equals. This last observation suggests, contrary to what Warren asserts, that 
even in a culture where women are no more identified with nature than men 
are, sexism might still exist. 

According to Warren, of the four major schools of traditional feminist 
thought (liberal, Marxist, radical, and socialist), the socialist comes closest to 
providing the theoretical basis from which to launch transformative ecofeminist 
practices. 69 Liberal feminism is deficient, in Warren’s estimation, because it 
maintains dualisms such as culture-nature, mind-body, and rational-emotional. 
Like liberalism, liberal feminism emphasizes the value of individualism and 
independence as opposed to the importance of weblike relationships and the 
connectedness of all forms of life and natural resources. 70 Thus, liberal feminism 
is not particularly compatible with ecology; indeed, its theoretical basis seems to 
be at odds with ecology. 

Marxist feminism is inadequate for very different reasons, thought War- 
ren. Marxist feminists, like Marxists, believe physical labor is the essential 
human activity that transforms natural, material resources into products for 
human exchange and consumption. This theoretical approach allows little if 
any room for concerns about nature, since Marxists and Marxist feminists 
place liberated “men and women, as one class, over and against nature.” 71 
Moreover, in setting the human world over and against the nonhuman 
world, Marxist feminism fails to appreciate just how closely women’s oppres- 
sion is linked with nature’s oppression. To set women in opposition to nature 
is to set women in opposition to themselves in a profound way. 72 

Finally claimed Warren, radical feminism is inadequate because it unwit- 
tingly “assumes the very nature-culture split that ecofeminism denies” by 
requiring women either to embrace (radical-cultural feminists) or to reject 



Global Ecofeminism 261 


(radical-libertarian feminists) their biological connections to nature. 73 Stressing 
that women’s interests are served neither by identifying nor by disidentifying 
women with nature, Warren insisted ecofeminism must view both men and 
women as equally “natural” and equally “cultural.” 

Although Warren recognized that socialist feminism is fundamentally anti- 
individualist, she faulted it for largely overlooking the human-nonhuman 
dichotomy. 74 Warren thought socialist feminism failed to red-flag the extent 
to which the oppression of women by men is linked to the oppression of non- 
humans by humans. For this reason, Warren called for a feminism even more 
comprehensive than socialist feminism, a feminism she termed “transforma- 
tive feminism.” 75 

According to Warren, transformative feminism has six features. First, it recog- 
nizes and makes explicit the interconnections between all systems of oppression. 
Second, it stresses the diversity of womens experiences, forsaking the search for 
“woman” and her unitary experience. Third, it rejects the logic of domination. 
Fourth, it rethinks what it means to be a human being, courageously reconsider- 
ing whether humans should view “consciousness” (and rationality) as not only 
that which distinguishes them from nonhumans but somehow makes them bet- 
ter than nonhumans. Fifth, it relies on an ethic that stresses those traditional 
feminine virtues that tend to weave, interconnect, and unite people. Finally, it 
maintains science and technology be used only to the extent they preserve the 
earth. 76 Given Warren’s analysis of transformative feminism, it would seem to 
constitute a “thinking space” where men and women from all over the world can 
gather together to mix and match multiple feminist insights. 

Global Ecofeminism 

Among the ecofeminists who have adopted a global perspective are Maria 
Mies, a sociologist known for her work on development economics, and 
Vandana Shiva, a physicist known for her interests in spirituality. Mies and 
Shiva stressed that because women, more than men, are engaged in the work 
of sustaining daily life, women, more than men, are concerned about the ele- 
ments: air, water, earth, fire. In order to bear and rear healthy children and to 
provide their families with nourishing food, adequate clothing, and sturdy 
housing, women need fertile soil, lush plant life, fresh water, and clean air. In 
addition, like many multicultural, global, and postcolonial feminists, Mies 
and Shiva lamented Western culture’s obsession with the idea of “same- 
ness” — the universal “I,” the overarching “one.” Capitalism and patriarchy, 
they observed, are systems that stamp out difference, doggedly cloning them- 
selves, their ideas, and their salable goods wherever they go. Finally, like 



262 Chapter 7: Ecofeminism 


many Marxist and socialist feminists, Mies and Shiva observed how people 
in capitalist patriarchies tend to be alienated from everything: the products 
of their labor, nature, each other, and even themselves. As a result, human 
beings in capitalist patriarchies often engage in some fairly bizarre behavior 
in order to reduce their alienation. 

In an essay entitled “White Man’s Dilemma: His Search for What He 
Has Destroyed,” Mies described in detail some of the mind-boggling ways 
all people, but particularly white men in capitalist patriarchies, aim to con- 
nect with nature — the very nature that their lifestyle and patterns of con- 
sumption threaten to destroy. 77 First, she said, white man attempts to run 
away from the confines of his urban office “into ‘Nature,’ the ‘wilderness,’ 
the ‘underdeveloped’ countries of the South, to areas where White Man . . . 
has not yet ‘penetrated.’” Tourist agents in the First World promote Third 
World excursions with trip descriptions such as the following one: “Euro- 
pean tourists can live in villages in close contact with the ‘natives’ in 
African-style huts with minimum comfort, African food, no running water 
and where European and African children play together. The ‘real’ Africa to 
be touched!” Second, continued Mies, rather than trying to unite with the 
“mundane” nature right in his backyard, white man seeks to experience a 
more “exotic” type of nature: nature as “colony, backward, exotic, distant 
and dangerous, the nature of Asia, Africa, South America.” Those who 
yearn for this kind of nature do not desire to relate to it productively by 
working on it or tending to it but rather by absorbing it or consuming it — 
by locking it in the chambers of their cameras or by marketing it to others 
as souvenirs. Third, she says, white man longs for yet another kind of na- 
ture, the space known as woman’s body. It, too, is wild terrain, the “dark 
continent,” so white man relates to woman’s body as he relates to nature: as 
object of his gaze, as commodity, as to work a form of play to liberate him, 
if only for a moment, from his relentless workday: 

The growing sex-obsessing apparent in all industrial societies is ... a direct 
consequence of alienation from nature, the absence of a sensual interacting 
with nature in people’s work life. Sexuality is supposed to be the totally 
“other” from work, sexuality should not interfere with work, should be 
stricdy separated from the work life. Sexuality is the “transcendence” of work, 
the “heaven” after the “valley of tears and sweat” of work, the real essence of 
leisure. . . . The tragedy is, however, that this “heaven” is also a commodity, to 
be bought like any other. And like the acquisition of other consumer goods, 
ultimately it disappoints. . . . Therefore, the constantly disappointed striving 
to attain this “heaven” transforms need into an addiction. 78 



Global Ecofeminism 263 


Reflecting on Mies’s comments, we may find it easy to view her and her 
coauthor, Shiva, as sodn\l\st-transformative ecofeminists. Shiva as well as Mies 
believed there are enough similarities among women to motivate women to 
work together against capitalist patriarchy and the destructive isms it spawns. 
As evidence that all women share similar interests in preserving nature, Mies 
and Shiva provided numerous examples of Third World and First World 
women struggling against ecological destruction and deterioration. Women, 
they noted, have led the battle to preserve the bases of life wherever and 
whenever military and industrial interests have threatened them. 

Among the case studies Shiva presented to demonstrate why trees, for 
example, are a feminist issue and not simply an ecological issue was the 1974 
protest of twenty-seven northern Indian women to stop the felling of their 
homeland’s small, indigenous trees. 79 These women intended to cling physi- 
cally to the trees if lumberjacks attempted to cut down the trees. The women’s 
protest, known as the chipko (a Hindi word meaning “to hug”) movement, 
saved thousands of square kilometers of sensitive watershed. Because wood is 
inextricably connected to their rural and household economies, providing 
food, fuel, fodder, products for the home, and income, the chipko women 
were willing to die to keep the indigenous trees from being replaced by im- 
ported trees too large for them to fell. According to outsiders, it was in the 
best interests of northern Indians to plant “income-generating” eucalyptus 
trees, which produce a marketable fiber. But even if it was in the interests of 
some northern Indian men to switch their “allegiance” to the eucalyptus, it 
was not in the best interests of northern Indian women to do so, said Shiva. 
The women and their families needed and wanted trees for all sorts of pur- 
poses: to use as fence poles; to provide materials for baskets, dyes, medicines, 
and decorations; for shade; for food; and most important, to symbolize who 
the people of northern India are and stand for as a unique people. Shiva used 
poetic words to express the chipko women’s intense feelings about their trees: 

A fight for truth has begun 

At Sinsyaru Khala 

A fight for rights has begun 

In Malkot Thano 

Sister, it is a fight to protect 

Our mountains and forests 

They give us life 

Embrace the life of the living trees 
And streams to your hearts 
Resist the digging of mountains 



264 Chapter 7: Ecofeminism 


Which kills our forests and streams 

A fight for life has begun at 

Sinsyaru Khala. 80 

If life is a theme for socialist-transformative ecofeminists, so, too, is free- 
dom. The freedom to which Mies and Shiva referred is not the kind of Marx- 
ist freedom that requires man to master nature and therefore woman’s body. 
Rather, it is the kind of freedom that asks all of us to recognize and accept 
our naturalness, our physicality and materiality, our carnality and mortality. 
Because nature is an exhaustible good, we must learn to conserve it by living 
as simply as possible and by consuming as little as possible. If we care about 
our descendants’ lives, we must develop a so-called subsistence perspective. 

It is not surprising that Mies and Shiva proposed a subsistence perspective 
as the key to dissolving all the practices and systems that threaten to destroy 
the earth. These women are, after all, rori^/itr-transformative ecofeminists for 
whom transformation must be material as well as spiritual. Mies claimed 
people in capitalist patriarchies need to take ten steps if they are serious 
about developing a subsistence lifestyle: 

1. People should produce only enough to satisfy fundamental human 
needs, resisting the urge to produce “an ever-growing mountain of 
commodities and money (wages or profit)” in a futile attempt to still 
people’s endless and insatiable wants. 

2. People should use only as much of nature as they need to, treating it as 
a reality with “her own subjectivity;” and people should use each other 
not to make money but to create communities capable of meeting 
people’s fundamental needs, especially their need for intimacy. 

3. People should replace representative democracy with participatory 
democracy so each man and woman has the opportunity to express 
his or her concerns to everyone else. 

4. People should develop “multidimensional or synergic” problem-solving 
approaches, since the problems of contemporary society are interrelated. 

5. People should combine contemporary science, technologies, and 
knowledge with ancient wisdom, traditions, and even magic. 

6. People should break down the boundaries between work and play, the 
sciences and the arts, spirit and matter. 

7. People should view water, air, earth, and all natural resources as com- 
munity goods rather than as private possessions. 

8. Men as well as women should adopt the socialist-transformative 
ecofeminist view, the subsistence perspective. Specifically, men must 



Critiques of Ecofeminism 265 


stop focusing on making as much money as possible and focus instead 
on making their families as loving as possible. 

9. Men as well as women should cultivate traditional feminine virtues 
(caring, compassion, nurturance) and engage in subsistence produc- 
tion, for “only a society based on a subsistence perspective can afford 
to live in peace with nature, and uphold peace between nations, gener- 
ations and men and women.” 

10. Most important, people should realize that in order for each person to 
have enough, no person can “have it all.” 81 

Kamla Bhasin, an Indian feminist, captured the essences of the “sustain- 
able development” model well: 

The standard of living of the North’s affluent societies cannot be gener- 
alized. This was already clear to Mahatma Gandhi 60 years ago, who, 
when asked by a British journalist whether he would like India to have 
the same standard of living as Britain, replied: “To have its standard of 
living a tiny country like Britain had to exploit half the globe. How 
many globes will India need to exploit to have the same standard of liv- 
ing?” From an ecological and feminist perspective, moreover, even if 
there were more globes to be exploited, it is not even desirable that this 
development paradigm and standard of living was generalized, because 
it has failed to fulfill its promises of happiness, freedom, dignity and 
peace, even for those who have profited from it. 82 


Critiques of Ecofeminism 

Nature Ecofeminism 

Because there are so many varieties of ecofeminism, no general critique is ap- 
plicable. As noted above, the critiques raised against nature ecofeminism are 
similar to those raised against radical-cultural feminism. In the estimation of 
Janet Biehl, nature ecofeminists erred when they “biologize(d) women as 
presumably uniquely ecological beings” who are able to relate to and under- 
stand nature in ways men simply cannot, and who are caring and nurturing 
in ways men, try as they might, can never be. 83 There is, said Biehl, too 
much willingness among nature ecofeminists either to reduce women into 
mere bodies or to limit women’s potentialities and abilities to those associ- 
ated with their supposedly “caring nature.” As Biehl saw it, nature ecofemi- 
nism is reactionary rather than revolutionary. Quoting Simone de Beauvoir, 



266 Chapter 7: Ecofeminism 


from whom many nature ecofeminists borrowed their basic concept of 
women’s and nature’s otherness, Biehl stressed that women celebrate the na- 
ture-woman connection at their own peril, for “that’s the formula used to try 
and keep women quiet.” 84 Biehl insisted that nature ecofeminists like Mary 
Daly misled women by suggesting women can by fiat “reclaim” the meaning 
of the nature-woman connection as an entirely positive one. In reality, in- 
sisted Biehl, the nature-woman connection has been “enormously debasing 
to women,” and centuries of negative cultural baggage cannot be cast off by 
passionate “reclaiming” alone. 85 

Spiritual Ecofeminism 

Critics on the left fault spiritual ecofeminists for substituting religion for politics 
and for spending too much time dancing in the moonlight, casting “magic” 
spells, chanting mantras, doing yoga, “mindfully” meditating, and giving each 
other massages. Defenders of spiritual ecofeminism concede that some spiritual 
ecofeminists might have mistaken New Age or “spa” spirituality for genuine 
ecofeminist spirituality, but they insist such mistakes were the exception, not the 
rule. Goddess worship is not, said Mies and Shiva, “luxury spirituality,” “the 
idealist icing on top of the material cake of the West’s standard of living.” 86 It is 
not about turning the East’s spiritual and cultural treasures into commodities 
for sale as exotica to privileged and pampered Western people who lack “mean- 
ing.” Rather, Goddess worship is an attempt to break the culturally construct- 
ed dichotomy between spirituality and materiality and to recognize everything 
and everyone as worthy and deserving of respect. Spiritual ecofeminists, ob- 
served Ynestra King, are not otherworldly dreamers; they are this-worldly ac- 
tivists. Spiritual ecofeminists use such “community-building techniques” as 
performance art, kinesthetic observations (dancing and chanting), and ritual to 
enable people “to establish and maintain community with one another in con- 
tentious and difficult situations of political engagement in the public world.” 87 
Some spiritual ecofeminists may indeed choose to restrict their political activi- 
ties to their local communities, insisting “theirs is the politics of everyday life, 
the transformation of fundamental relationships, even if that takes place only in 
small communities.” 88 They claim so-called everyday politics is “much more ef- 
fective than countering the power games of men with similar games.” 89 But just 
because some spiritual ecofeminists refuse to play power games with men does 
not mean these feminists should be dismissed as crystal gazers. Not everyone 
who cares about the earth and works to safeguard it needs to move to the 
Women’s Peace Camp at Greenham Commons in England; there is work to be 
done in one’s own backyard as well as in faraway places. 



Critiques of Ecofeminism 267 


Transformative Ecofeminism 

As noted above, like all transformative ecofeminists, social-constructionist 
ecofeminists deny that women are naturally caring and nurturing. Instead 
they claim that women’s feminine characteristics are the products of encul- 
turation or socialization. For example, Carolyn Merchant repeatedly empha- 
sized that “any analysis that times women’s supposed special qualities to a 
biological destiny thwarts the possibility of liberation. A politics grounded in 
women’s culture, experience, and values can be seen as reactionary.” 90 
Women are no more “natural” than they are “cultural.” But critics of social- 
constructionist ecofeminism point out that it may be a mistake to delink 
women and nature. 

De-emphasizing the connections between women’s and nature’s life-giving 
capacities may, they said, “somewhat diminish the original ecofeminist pas- 
sion to reclaim ‘nature’ in an organic sense — certainly when it comes to 
women’s biology.” 91 They further claimed that an ecofeminism grounded in 
women’s traditional feminine virtues, maternal roles, and special relationship 
to nature need not be “reactionary.” Such an ecofeminism can be “revolution- 
ary”; it can motivate women to get engaged in political action. For example, 
Ynestra King, a critic of cultural (nature) ecofeminism, noted that throughout 
her entire pregnancy, she kept thinking that in the time it took her to gestate 
one precious human being, eight thousand children in the Persian Gulf had 
starved to death or died of causes direcdy attributable to the weapons used by 
U.S. forces during the Gulf War of 1990-1991. Overwhelmed by this 
thought, she realized that “thinking like an ecofeminist” requires one to make 
“abstract connections concrete.” 92 

Although they find the perspective of all transformative ecofeminists com- 
pelling, critics suspect its demands are too challenging for relatively affluent 
people to accept. In particular, the critics think the degree of activism and 
lifestyle change that transformative-socialist ecofeminism requires are com- 
mitments that comfortable and complacent citizens are unlikely to embrace. 
Most people, including most feminists, do not want to radically change the 
way they live. For example, they do not want to become “card-carrying” veg- 
etarians or pacifists. 

In response to this objection, some socialist and transformative ecofemi- 
nists simply comment that people’s reluctance to make lifestyle changes is 
not a moral justification for their not doing so. Altruism requires a certain 
measure of self-sacrifice. Other socialist and transformative ecofeminists 
soften this response by conceding that moral progress is often incremental. 
Even if a person is not willing to forsake eating meat altogether, for example, 



268 Chapter 7: Ecofeminism 


he or she can at least refuse to eat animals that have been factory-farmed or 
grown under extremely cruel conditions. 

Likewise, even if a person is not willing to devote the bulk of his or her 
time working for environmental causes or feels overwhelmed by them, there is 
always some positive difference, however small, he or she can make. Doretta 
Zemp, creator of the satirical comic strip Roseanna of the Planet, commented: 

Too often the environmental issues are bigger than we are, and we feel 
helpless in the face of their enormity, such as the greenhouse effect, the 
rape of the rain forests, and the Bhopal pesticide leak, which killed 
2500 people and permanently injured 17,000 more. What can we do 
about that? But Roseanna, my character, is down to our size. She and 
her best friend, stuffy old Egmont, wax in passion over concerns that 
are on our scale: chemicals in the home, neighborhood pollution, and 
the malathion spraying against our will. They disagree on everything 
except where to go for solutions. He uses ivory tower rhetoric and blind 
faith. I see Roseanna as every woman, and I see Egmont as exemplifying 
conventional wisdom, government, and big business. 93 

While Egmont stands idly by, trusting that Big Brother will save everyone 
from environmental doom, Roseanna is busy throwing out the ozone-damaging 
deodorants in her bathroom, the poisonous bug sprays under her kitchen sink, 
and the herbicide-laden cosmetics on her bureau. There is, she insists, always 
something one can do. 

Finally, even if a person is not a pacifist, he or she can be antimilitary. To 
be opposed to the waging of wars — the intention of which is domination by 
means of destruction of life — is not the same as being opposed to participat- 
ing in any act of violence whatsoever. Self-defense and wars waged for the 
purpose of liberating oneself and one’s people from the forces of death are 
not incompatible with socialist and transformative ecofeminist ideals. To be 
sure, socialist and transformative ecofeminists will try to resolve conflicts cre- 
atively (i.e., nonviolently) and peacefully (i.e., through rational destruction). 
But when they realize their voices will not be heard and the destruction of 
everything and everyone (especially their children) precious to them will 
continue, even the most peaceful ecofeminists will fight for life. 

Conclusion 

No matter the differences that exist between social-constructionist and nature 
ecofeminists or between socialist and spiritual ecofeminists, all ecofeminists 



Conclusion 269 


believe human beings are connected to one another and to the nonhuman 
world: animal, plant, and inert. Unfortunately, we do not always acknowledge 
our relationships to and responsibilities for other people, let alone those we 
have to the nonhuman world. As a result, we do violence to each other and to 
nature, congratulating ourselves on protecting our self-interests. Meanwhile, 
each day, we kill ourselves by killing our brothers and sisters and by laying 
waste to the earth from which we originate and to which we will return. 

Given the state of human affairs just described, ecofeminists wonder what 
it will take for the majority of human beings to realize how irrational as well 
as unfeeling human systems of oppression and domination are. These sys- 
tems bring in their wake hate, anger, destruction, and death, yet we humans 
cling to our social constructs. Is the solution to this pathological state of 
affairs to create a culture in which we honor women and nature as some sort 
of saviors? Or is it instead to follow Dinnerstein’s instructions and insist that 
men and women alike assume equal responsibility for both child-rearing and 
world building? What will it take for us to stop thinking dichotomously, to 
realize we are our own worst enemies? Are we wasting time waiting for the 
saving grace of some Godot when we should instead be using our own heads 
and hearts to stop destroying what we in fact are: an interdependent whole, a 
unity that exists in and through, and not despite, its diversity? Ecofeminists, 
especially transformative-socialist ecofeminists, have already made their deci- 
sion. They stopped waiting for the revolution, the transformation, the mira- 
cle to happen a long time ago. They are busy at work (and play) doing what 
they can to eliminate the blights that brown the earth and kill the human 
spirit. 94 The question remains, however, whether the rest of us are set to join 
them. Hopefully, this new millennium will bring the right answer. 



8 

Postmodern and Third- Wave Feminism 


Feminist thought has increased in diversity during the last quarter century. It 
is no longer in its adolescence; indeed it is adult in its intellectual maturity. 
But like flesh- and-blood human adults, feminist thought is in the throes of a 
midlife crisis. Among the many identity challenges it faces are the emergence 
and growing popularity of postmodern feminism and third-wave feminism. 

Because the relationship between postmodernism and feminism is an un- 
easy one, feminists who classify themselves as postmodern feminists often 
have difficulty explaining how they can be both postmodern and feminist. 
Like all postmodernists, postmodern feminists reject phallogocentric thought, 
that is, ideas ordered around an absolute word (logos) that is “male” in style 
(hence the reference to the phallus). In addition, postmodern feminists reject 
any mode of feminist thought that aims to provide a single explanation for 
why women are oppressed or the ten or so steps all women must take to 
achieve liberation. Indeed, some postmodern feminists are so mistrustful of 
traditional feminist thought that they eschew it altogether. For example, 
Flelene Cixous wanted nothing to do with terms such as feminist and lesbian. 
She claimed these words are parasitic on phallogocentric thought because they 
connote “deviation from a norm instead of a free sexual option or a place of 
solidarity with women .” 1 It is better, she said, for women seeking liberation to 
avoid such terms, because they signal a unity that blocks difference. Although 
postmodern feminists’ refusal to develop one overarching explanation and 
solution for women’s oppression poses major problems for feminist theory, 
this refusal also adds needed fuel to the feminist fires of plurality, multiplicity, 
and difference. Postmodern feminists invite each woman who reflects on their 
writings to become the kind of feminist she wants to be. There is, in their 
estimation, no single formula for being a “good feminist.” 


270 




Postmodern and Third - Wave Feminism 271 


Agreeing with the view that there is no one way to be a good feminist — 
or, for that matter, a woman — third-wave feminists push just as hard as 
postmodern feminists to take feminist thought in new directions. Accord- 
ing to Beverly Guy-Sheftall, third-wave feminists are members of 

the so-called third phase of the U.S. womens movement, the first phase be- 
ing primarily the nineteenth-century woman suffrage movement, followed 
by the second phase, which began in the mid-1960s and was catalyzed pri- 
marily by the Civil Rights movement; and the third wave, referring to a 
younger generation of women in the 1990s who were certainly influenced 
by their feminist foremothers but who would define feminism differently, 
and in some ways reject what they perceived to be the doctrinaire aspects of 
an ideology, mainstream feminism, that they both respect and find limiting. 2 

Third-wave feminists are more than willing to accommodate diversity and 
change. They are particularly eager to understand the ways in which gender 
oppression and other kinds of human oppression co-create and co-maintain 
each other. For third-wave feminists, difference is the way things are. Their 
world is the Heraclitean world, not the Parmedian world. Moreover, third- 
wave feminists expect and even welcome conflict and contradiction, including 
self-contradiction, as Leslie Heywood and Jennifer Drake explained: 

Even as different strains of feminism and activism sometimes directly 
contradict each other, they are all part of our third-wave lives, our 
thinking, and our praxes: we are products of all the contradictory defi- 
nitions of and differences within feminism, beasts of such a hybrid kind 
that perhaps we need a different name altogether. 3 

But what might be this new name for feminism? Should it be named at all? 

Initially, a noticeable number of feminists who shaped second-wave feminist 
thought did not know what to make of postmodern and third-wave feminism. 
They rejected postmodern feminism as mere jargon, as elitist babble, and they 
reacted to third-wave feminism as “back talk” from their rebellious daughters. 
But as a result of listening more closely to the voices of postmodern and third- 
wave feminists, many second-wave feminists began to hear some of themselves 
in these other thinkers. Before long, postmodern and third-wave feminism did 
not seem so alien to second-wave feminists. Thus, feminism at the beginning of 
the twenty-first century is in some ways very different from feminism in the 
1970s or at the turn of the century, yet in other ways, it remains very much the 
same, seeking womens best interests diligently. 



272 Chapter 8: Postmodern and Third-Wave Feminism 


Postmodernism/Postmodern Feminism: 

Keynotes 

In a moment of exasperation, Judith Butler (discussed in more detail later) 
said that she was tired of thinkers who include in the category “postmodern” 
any type of philosophical thought that is not modern (“modern” usually 
means the kind of philosophical thought that characterized the eighteenth- 
century European Enlightenment or Age of Reason): 

A number of positions are ascribed to postmodernism, as if it were the 
kind of thing that could be the bearer of a set of positions. . . . These 
characterizations are variously imputed to postmodernism or poststruc- 
turalism, which are conflated with each other and sometimes conflated 
with deconstruction, and sometimes understood as an indiscriminate 
assemblage of French feminism, deconstruction, Lacanian psychoanaly- 
sis, Foucaultian analysis, Rorty’s conversationalism and cultural studies. 4 

Butler’s point was that many critics of postmodernism/postmodern femi- 
nism are guilty of not doing their homework. They try to “colonize and do- 
mesticate” a wide variety of emerging modes of philosophical thought under 
what she termed the “sign of the same.” 5 Rather than actually reading the 
writings of postmodernists/postmodern feminists closely, these critics prefer 
to dismiss them as variations on the same theme. 

Butler’s point is well taken. Yet, despite the diversity in postmodern/post- 
modern feminist thought, it is still possible to claim that a large number of 
postmodern feminists take their intellectual cues from psychoanalysts like 
Jacques Lacan, existentialists like Simone de Beauvoir, deconstructionists like 
Jacques Derrida, and poststructuralists like Michel Foucault. A case in point 
is Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva, whom I presented as psychoanalytic femi- 
nists in Chapter 4 because of their reliance on Jacques Lacan’s thought. 

Although I could have discussed any number of postmodern feminists in 
this chapter, I ultimately selected only two for detailed discussion. 6 First, I 
focus on Helene Cixous and the influence of Jacques Derrida’s writings on 
her thought. Second, I focus on Judith Butler and the influence of Michel 
Foucault’s theories on her thought. To be sure, Cixous and Butler are simply 
representative postmodern feminists, which is a very large and eclectic class. 
My decision to focus on these two thinkers is mainly a matter of preference, 
but it is also part of a plan to identify points of resonance between them. It 
may, after all, be useful to maintain the category “postmodern feminism,” if 
only to begin a useful discussion with other schools of feminist thought. 



Postmodernism/Postmodern Feminism: Keynotes 273 


Before launching into a discussion of Jacques Derrida and Helene Cixous, we 
need to look at postmodernism’s position on the general map of Western philoso- 
phy. Perhaps the easiest way to understand postmodernism is to list the modernist 
(Enlightenment) beliefs it rejects. Jane Flax has provided a particularly good sum- 
mary of the Enlightenment’s main tenets, including the following: 

1 . There is a “stable, coherent self” that can know how and why it thinks 
the way it does. 

2. Through its rational powers (reason), the self can gain “objective, reliable, 
and universal knowledge.” 

3. The knowledge that reason acquires is true; that is, it “represent[s] 
something real and unchanging (universal) about our minds and the 
structure of the natural world.” 

4. Reason has “transcendental and universal qualities”; that is, somehow 
reason exists independently of us viewed as historical beings situated 
in specific times and places. 

5. Reason, freedom, and autonomy are interconnected in very complex 
ways. For example, if I am fully free, I will voluntarily obey the laws 
reason imposes on me. I will not rebel against the laws that bind me 
and all rational beings. 

6. Power does not trump reason. On the contrary. Claims to power (author- 
ity) are grounded in reason. Therefore, when truth conflicts with power, 
reason steps in and decides the controversy in favor of truth. 

7. The exemplar for all true knowledge is science understood as the “right 
use of reason.” Science is neutral and objective in its methodology, and 
because this is so, it can utilize the laws of nature for our benefit. 

8. Language, the tool we use to communicate the knowledge science pro- 
duces, represents the real world that our rational minds observe. There 
is an isomorphic correspondence between word and thing. For exam- 
ple, the word “dog” corresponds to the entity, dog. Objects are not 
constructed by means of words or social conventions. Once perceived 
by our rational minds, objects are simply acknowledged by us through 
words. 7 

Enlightenment (modern) thought as summarized by Flax remains the 
kind of thought that is still operative in most people’s everyday lives. But, as 
postmodernists see it, most people are living in a state of denial. The “En- 
lightenment world” is a figment of people’s imagination. There is neither a 
stable self nor rational powers capable of yielding universal knowledge. Truth 
is whatever power proclaims it to be. Freedom is the power to do as one 



274 Chapter 8: Postmodern and Third-Wave Feminism 


pleases, however irrational or nonbeneficial one’s actions may be judged. Sci- 
ence is no more objective than politics or ethics, both of which are subjec- 
tive, contextual, historical, contingent, and almost always deployed to serve 
self-interest. And language does not represent reality, because there is no real- 
ity for it to signify. On the contrary, language constructs reality — a reality 
that depends on words for its existence. 

Jacques Derrida 

Like Jacques Lacan, whose work we discussed in Chapter 4, Jacques Derrida 
focused much of his work on the mechanisms of the Symbolic order, that is, 
the series of interrelated signs, roles, and rituals a child must internalize in 
order to function adequately in society. The more a child submits to the lin- 
guistic rules of society, the more those rules will be inscribed in his or her 
unconscious. In other words, the Symbolic order regulates society through 
the regulation of individuals; as long as individuals speak the language of the 
Symbolic order — internalizing its gender, race, and class roles — society 
reproduces itself in fairly constant forms. 

Derrida sought to liberate thinking from the assumption of singularity — 
that is, the view that one single truth or essence, a “transcendental signifier,” 
exists, in and of itself, as a giver of meaning. He did this by using the tech- 
niques of a philosophical method often referred to as “deconstruction.” De- 
construction is a deliberate attempt to open or subject a literary, 
philosophical, or political text to several interpretations, some of which may 
contradict each other. According to Derrida, our understanding of any 
word — say, cat — does not depend on the “metaphysical presence” (exis- 
tence/reality) of either any particular cat or the idea of cat/catness in general. 
Rather it depends on other words — on a very long chain of “signifiers” that 
refer to nothing over and beyond themselves. 8 

In an attempt to explain Derridas deconstruction, most commentators focus 
on his concept of difference (which he spells differance instead of difference, the 
ordinary French spelling of the English word difference). Prior to the emergence 
of postmodern thought, structuralists insisted that so-called binary oppositions 
produce meaning in language. In other words, structuralists claimed that the 
way we understand the term “masculine,” for example, depends on our under- 
standing of the term “feminine,” and vice versa. Derrida disagreed with this 
reigning view. As he saw it, language is achieved through the free play of myriad 
signifiers. Bipolar thought must be resisted whenever it manifests itself. 

Toril Moi clarified Derridas understanding of “playful” signifiers by point- 
ing to structuralist Ferdinand Saussure’s concept of the phoneme “defined as 



Postmodernism/Postmodern Feminism: Keynotes 275 


the smallest differential — and therefore signifying — unit in language.” 9 No 
one phoneme, say, b, has any meaning in and of itself, said Moi. On the con- 
trary, the only reason b signifies anything is that it is different from h and nu- 
merous other phonemes. Likewise, the only reason the word bat means 
anything in English is that it can be contrasted with words like cat, hat, and 
the myriad other words that constitute the English language. The word bat 
achieves its meaning by continually deferring its meaning to other English 
words. It never gets to rest safe and secure in the comfort of an actual bat or 
the idea of batness-in-itself. Nor does it come into permanent existence by 
virtue of the intent of some particular author who defines its meaning once 
and for all. Rather the word bat becomes temporarily meaningful only when 
an author lets it come to the fore by suppressing other words that may, in 
turn, be selected over it by other authors. No phoneme, word, sentence, para- 
graph, article, book, has a final meaning. Thus, thinking is nothing more than 
continually producing new readings of texts. 10 Language and reality are vari- 
able and shifting, missing each other in a Eleraclitean flux of words, according 
to Derrida. Words do not stand for things, for pieces of reality. Rather, reality 
eludes language, and language refuses to be pinned down or limited by reality. 

Helene Cixous 

Although no single thinker is behind Helene Cixous’s complex thought, 
she found Derrida’s concept of differance (defined by Moi as the “open- 
ended play between the presence of one signifier and the absence of oth- 
ers”) 11 and his rejection of binary thought very useful. Cixous is primarily 
a novelist experimenting with literary style. In applying Derridas notion of 
differance to writing, she contrasted feminine writing (I’ecriture feminine) 
with masculine writing {literature) . Viewed within a psychoanalytic frame- 
work, masculine writing is rooted in a man’s genital and libidinal economy, 
which is emblemized by the phallus. For a variety of sociocultural reasons, 
masculine writing has reigned supreme over feminine writing. In the words 
of Ann Rosalind Jones, man (white, European, and ruling class) has 
claimed, “I am the unified, self-controlled center of the universe. The rest 
of the world, which I define as the Other, has meaning only in relation to 
me, as man/father, possessor of the phallus.” 12 

Cixous has objected to masculine writing and thinking because they are 
cast in binary oppositions. Man has unnecessarily segmented reality by cou- 
pling concepts and terms in pairs of polar opposites, one of which is always 
privileged over the other. In her essay “Sorties,” Cixous listed some of these 
dichotomous pairs: 



276 Chapter 8: Postmodern and Third-Wave Feminism 


Activity/Passivity 

Sun/Moon 

Culture/Nature 

Day/Night 

Thought has always worked through opposition. 

Speaking/Writing 

Parole/Ecriture 

High/Low 

Through dual, hierarchical oppositions. 13 

According to Cixous, each of these dichotomies finds its inspiration in the 
dyad man-woman. Man is associated with all that is active, cultural, light, 
high, or generally positive, whereas woman is associated with all that is pas- 
sive, natural, dark, low, or generally negative. Moreover, the first term in the 
dyad man-woman is the term from which the second departs or deviates. 
Man is the self; woman is the other. Thus, woman exists in man’s world on 
his terms. She is either the other for man, or she is unthought. After man is 
done thinking about woman, “what is left of her is unthinkable, 
un thought.” 14 

Cixous challenged women to write themselves out of the world men con- 
structed for women. She urged women to put themselves — the unthinkable/ 
unthought — into words. The kind of writing Cixous identified as woman’s 
own — marking, scratching, scribbling, jotting down — connotes movements 
that, once again, bring to mind Heraclitus’ ever-changing river. In contrast, the 
kind of writing Cixous associated with man composes the bulk of the so-called 
accumulated wisdom of humankind. Stamped with the official seal of social ap- 
proval, masculine writing is too weighted down to move or change. 

For Cixous, feminine writing is not merely a new style of writing; it is “the 
very possibility of change, the space that can serve as a springboard for subver- 
sive thought, the precursory movement of a transformation of social and cul- 
tural standards.” 15 By developing feminine writing, women can, she insisted, 
change the way the Western world thinks, speaks, and acts. This is no easy 
task, however. Trying to write the nonexistent into existence, to “foresee the 
unforeseeable,” may, after all, strain women writers to the breaking point. 16 

In further distinguishing woman’s writing from man’s, Cixous drew many 
connections between male sexuality and masculine writing and female sexual- 
ity and feminine writing. Male sexuality, which centers on what Cixous called 
the “big dick,” is ultimately boring in its pointedness and singularity. 17 Like 
male sexuality, masculine writing, which Cixous usually termed phallogocen- 
tric writing, is also ultimately boring. Men write the same old things with 



Postmodernism/Postmodern Feminism: Keynotes 277 


their “little pocket signifier” — the trio of penis/phallus/pen. 18 Fearing the 
multiplicity and chaos that exist outside their Symbolic order, men always 
write in black ink, carefully containing their thoughts in a sharply defined and 
rigidly imposed structure. 

In contrast, female sexuality is anything but boring, Cixous said in no un- 
certain terms: 

Almost everything is yet to be written by women about femininity: 
about their sexuality, that is, its infinite and mobile complexity; about 
their eroticization, sudden turn-ons of a certain minuscule-immense 
area of their bodies; not about destiny, but about the adventure of such 
and such a drive, about trips, crossings, trudges, abrupt and gradual 
awakenings, discoveries of a zone at once timorous and soon to be 
forthright. 19 

Like female sexuality, feminine writing is open and multiple, varied and 
rhythmic, full of pleasures and, more important, full of possibilities. When a 
woman writes, said Cixous, she writes in “white ink,” letting her words flow 
freely where she wishes them to go: “Her writing can only keep going, with- 
out ever inscribing or discerning contours. . . . She lets the other language 
speak — the language of 1,000 tongues which knows neither enclosure nor 
death. . . . Her language does not contain, it carries; it does not hold back, it 
makes possible.” 20 

Running through Cixous ’s writing are an optimism and a joy lacking in 
both Derrida, for whom logocentrism is inevitable, and Lacan, for whom the 
phallus will always dominate. Cixous insisted women writers have the ability 
to lead the Western world out of the dichotomous conceptual order that 
causes it to think, speak, and act in terms of someone who is dominant and 
someone else who is submissive. If woman explores her body “with its thou- 
sand and one thresholds of order,” said Cixous, she “will make the old single- 
grooved mother tongue reverberate with more than one language.” 21 The id, 
implied Cixous, is the source of all desires. “Oral drive, anal drive, vocal 
drive — all these drives are our strengths, and among them is the gestation 
drive — just like the desire to write: a desire to live self from within, a desire 
for the swollen body, for language, for blood.” 22 

Michel Foucault 

Michel Foucault agreed with Derrida and Cixous that “we should not view the 
subject as the knowing, willing, autonomous, self-critical or transcendental’ 



278 Chapter 8: Postmodern and Third-Wave Feminism 

subject of Kantian discourse.” 23 Rather, we should understand the subject — 
that is, the individual person — as the product or effect of a variety of power 
relations manifested through a plurality of discourses. Understanding what 
Foucault means by power and power relations is no easy task, however, when 
one reads his observations about power: “Power is not an institution, and not a 
structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; [rather] it is the 
name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular soci- 
ety.” 24 Seeking to further elucidate Foucaults understanding of power, Philip 
Barker claimed that power has the following features: 

1 . Power is coextensive with the social body; 

2. relations of power are interwoven with other kinds of relations: pro- 
duction, kinship, family, sexuality; 

3. power does not take the sole form of prohibition and punishment, but 
is multiple in form; 

4. interconnections of power delineate general conditions of domination 
organized in a more or less coherent and unitary strategy; 

5. power relations serve because they are capable of being utilised in a 
wide range of strategies; 

6. there are no relations of power without possible resistances. 25 

We find ourselves the objects of multiple power relations and social dis- 
courses about sanity, sexuality, and violence, for example, and we experience 
ourselves as being controlled by these relations and discourses, as having to 
be obedient to them. 

As indicated above, discourse about sexuality is a primary site of power in 
contemporary society, according to Foucault. What society says about legiti- 
mate and taboo types of sexuality shapes the sexual behavior of individual per- 
sons. 26 We are, said Foucault, literally “policed” by society’s discourse about 
sexuality. 27 Policed, I confess my sexual fantasies and hang-ups to my psychia- 
trist; I seek forgiveness for my sexual sins by exposing them to my priest; I 
report my whereabouts to my parole officer if I bear the label of “sexual pred- 
ator”; I reveal my sexual fantasies to my lover. In turn, these authorities judge 
me in one way or another. I take their judgments to heart, internalize them, 
and then regulate myself in terms of them. Madan Sarup commented that in 
Foucault’s view, “complex differential power relationships extend to every 
aspect of our social, cultural, and political lives, involving all manner of (often 
contradictory) ‘subject-positions,’ and securing our assent not so much by the 
threat of punitive measures as by persuading us to internalize the norms and 
values that prevail within the social order.” 28 



Postmodernism/Postmodern Feminism: Keynotes 279 


Foucault frequently claimed that as sexual subjects, we are the object of a 
set of intersecting power relations and discourses that inscribe themselves on 
our bodies and cause us to recognize ourselves in certain ways. Often, we are 
unaware of the social forces that have constituted our sexual subjectivity. For 
this reason, we operate on the unquestioning assumption that our subjectiv- 
ity is our own. Thus, it is the role of critical thinkers to help us challenge the 
ways in which power relations and discourses have constituted our subjectiv- 
ity, particularly our sexual subjectivity so that we can somehow reconstitute 
it. 29 Foucault claimed that he did not conduct his analyses “in order to say: 
this is how things are, look how trapped you are.” 30 Rather, he conducted 
them to permit others to help us transform our realities. 

To better appreciate how power relations and discourses shape our subjec- 
tivities, sexualities, and bodies, we will look at a specific example. A variety of 
feminist thinkers, including many postmodern feminist thinkers, have 
expressed disapproval of cosmetic surgery for the purpose of women’s beauti- 
fication. In particular, Kathryn Pauly Morgan, Naomi Wolf, and Debra 
Gimlin, for example, have argued that cosmetic surgery is a negative and 
harmful aspect of Western culture and is something that generally runs 
counter to the feminist stance on the female body. For Morgan, cosmetic 
surgery is “primarily self-imposed surveillance of the body under patriarchal 
power ... a form of colonization of women’s bodies.” 31 She claimed that cos- 
metic surgery is required for women in ways that it is not required for men: 

As cosmetic surgery becomes increasingly normalized through the con- 
cept of female “make over” that is translated into columns and articles 
in the print media or made into nationwide television shows directed 
at female viewers, as the “success stories” are invited on the talk shows 
along with their “makers,” and as surgically transformed women enter 
the Miss America pageants, women who refuse to submit to the knives 
and to the needles, to the anesthetics and the bandages, will come to 
be seen as deviant in one way or another. Women who refuse to use 
these technologies are already becoming stigmatized as “unliberated,” 
not caring about their appearance (a sign of disturbed gender identity 
and low self-esteem according to various health-care professionals), as 
“refusing to be all that they could be” or as “granola-heads.” 32 

If this is not discourse at work, then what is? 

Like Morgan, Wolf claimed that cosmetic surgery is an example of “insti- 
tutionalized forms of power working in concert to force women into ex- 
treme beauty practices.” 33 Wolf postulated that women’s desire to be 



280 Chapter 8: Postmodern and Third-Wave Feminism 

beautiful (and the forms that this desire takes) is “the result of nothing more 
exalted than the need in today’s power structure, economy, and culture to 
mount a counter-offensive against women.” Women’s beauty, said Wolf, 
serves as the foundation of women’s identity and leaves them “vulnerable to 
outside approval.” Regarding cosmetic surgery in particular, Wolf claimed 
that a market for it has been created for surgeons to make money, but, more 
generally, for the powers-that-be to keep women politically, economically, 
and socially stagnated. Because women are forced to focus on their per- 
ceived flaws, their supposed ugliness, they have little time to focus on far 
more important issues. 34 

Adding yet more force to Morgan’s and Wolf’s essentially Foucaultian 
analysis of cosmetic surgery, Debra Gimlin observed that “cosmetic surgery 
is not about controlling one’s own body but is instead an activity so extreme, 
so invasive that it can only be interpreted as subjugation.” 35 On a more gen- 
eral note, discussing women’s overall beauty regime in the United States, 
Sandra Lee Bartky made these observations: 

Women are no longer required to be chaste or modest, to restrict their 
sphere of activity to the home, or even to realize their properly feminine 
destiny in maternity. Normative femininity [that is, the rules for being a 
good woman] is coming more and more to be centered on women’s 
body — not its duties and obligations or even its capacity to bear chil- 
dren, but its sexuality, more precisely, its presumed heterosexuality and 
its appearance. . . . The woman who checks her makeup half a dozen 
times a day to see if her foundation has caked or her mascara has run, 
who worries that the wind or the rain may spoil her hairdo, who looks 
frequently to see if her stockings have bagged at the ankle, or who, feel- 
ing fat, monitors everything she eats, has become, just as surely as the in- 
mate of Panopticon, a self-policing subject, a self committed to a 
relentless self-surveillance. This self-surveillance is a form of obedience 
to patriarchy. 36 

The question then becomes one of resistance. Flow can women disobey 
the “rule of the Father”? By refusing to submit to the knife? By using cos- 
metic surgery to deliberately make themselves ugly rather than beautiful? 

Judith Butler 

Although Judith Butler is influenced by many thinkers, she is certainly influ- 
enced by Freud, Derrida, and Foucault. In Gender Trouble, Butler challenged 



Postmodernism/Postmodern Feminism: Keynotes 281 


the general view that sex, gender, and sexuality constitute a seamless web 
such that if a person is biologically female (XX chromosomes), she will dis- 
play feminine traits and desire men as her sexual partners. Instead, Butler 
claimed that there is no necessary connection between a person’s sex and a 
person’s gender. Indeed, she went further than this. Butler said that “sex by 
definition, will be shown to have been gender all along.” 37 She agreed with 
Simone de Beauvoir that one is not born a woman; one becomes a woman. 38 

But what does it mean to become a woman? Do I choose to become a 
woman? Or do the kind of discursive powers about which Foucault spoke 
determine that I become a woman? Butler claimed that there is no preexist- 
ing “I” that chooses its gender. Rather, in Foucaultian fashion, she stated that 
“to choose a gender is to interpret received gender norms in a way that orga- 
nizes them anew. Less a radical act of creation, gender is a tacit project to 
renew one’s cultural history in one’s own terms. This is not a prescriptive task 
we must endeavor to do, but one in which we have been endeavoring all 
along.” 39 Within the discursive territory of heterosexuality, said Butler, not 
only is gender constructed, but so too is sex constructed. I find myself in the 
territory of heterosexuality and start constructing both my sexual and gender 
identity through my actions. 

Although most feminists have always thought gender is constructed, until 
relatively recently, few have also thought sex is constructed. But then Butler, 
among others, started to reflect on the identities of hermaphrodites. Their sex 
is ambiguous and may be oriented in either male or female directions. Gender 
and sex, said Butler, are more like verbs than nouns. But my actions are lim- 
ited. I am not permitted to construct my gender and sex willy-nilly, according 
to Butler. I am controlled by the scripts society writes about people’s sex and 
gender. It takes considerable imagination and fortitude to alter these scripts. 

In an attempt to rewrite the scripts that control them, many readers of 
Butler focused on her discussion of gender and sex as identities one chooses to 
perform. They mistakenly understood her to mean that gender and sex were 
wide-open categories and that individual subjects were free to choose any 
“sex” or “gender” they chose to enact. These readers failed to realize how lim- 
ited their options were. Sarah Salin attempted to explain these limitations: 

In Butler’s scheme of things, if you decided to ignore the expectations 
and the constraints imposed by your peers, colleagues, etc. by “putting 
on a gender,” which for some reason would upset those people who 
have authority over you or whose approval you require, you could not 
simply reinvent your metaphorical gender wardrobe or acquire an en- 
tirely new one (and even if you could do that, you would obviously be 



282 Chapter 8: Postmodern and Third-Wave Feminism 

limited by what was available in the shops). Rather, you would have to 
alter the clothes you already have in order to signal that you are not 
wearing them in a “conventional” way — by ripping them or sewing se- 
quins on them or wearing them back to front or upside-down. In other 
words, your choice of gender is curtailed, as is your choice of subver- 
sion — which might make it seem as though, what you are doing is not 
“choosing” or “subverting” your gender at all. 40 

I can cross-dress, I can undergo a sex change operation, I can act on my 
primary homosexual desire. But I remain in society’s boy-girl grid, no mat- 
ter what. 

Realizing that many of her readers were not understanding the nuances 
of her thought, Butler sought to distinguish between her concept of perfor- 
mance and her concept of performativity. She relied on the work of analytic 
philosopher John Austin to help her. Austin made a distinction between 
constative utterances or perlocutionary acts on the one hand and perfor- 
mative utterances or illuctionary acts on the other. 41 Constative utterances 
or perlocutionary acts simply report and describe something, whereas per- 
formative utterances or illuctionary acts actually make what is being said 
happen. For example, a perlocutionary statement or act is an observational 
statement like “Today is a windy day” or “My dress is blue.” In contrast, an 
illuctionary statement or act is a power statement like “I take you to be my 
wife” in the context of a wedding ceremony. Saying these words literally 
makes you a husband. Similarly, commented Salin, in Butler’s scheme of 
things: “When the doctor or nurse declares ‘It’s a girl/boy,’ they are not 
simply reporting on what they see ... , they are actually assigning a sex 
and a gender to a body that can have no existence outside discourse.” 42 In 
other words, in order to be in this world, one must fit into one of these cat- 
egories. There would need to be a whole other way of classifying individu- 
als to get out of the girl-boy game entirely. To get her point across, Butler 
referred to a cartoon strip in which an infant is proclaimed to be neither a 
boy nor a girl but a lesbian. She did this, said Salin, to introduce the idea 
that it might “be possible to designate or confer identity on the basis of an 
alternative set of discursively constituted attributes.” 43 But a “possibility” is 
just that. Most interpreters of Butler think that her bottom line is pes- 
simistic: that, at least in our lifetimes, it is highly unlikely that we will be 
liberated from the gender games that preoccupy us and the hierarchical 
systems that entrap us. 

Butler’s penultimate pessimism about transforming society prompted 
critic Martha Nussbaum to observe: 



Critique of Postmodern Feminism 283 


Thus the one place for agency in a world constrained by hierarchy is in 
the small opportunities we have to oppose gender roles every time they 
take shape. When I find myself doing femaleness, I can turn it around, 
poke fun at it, do it a little bit differently. Such reactive and parodic 
performances in Butler’s view, never destabilize the larger system. 

. . . Just as actors with a bad script can subvert it by delivering the bad 
lines oddly, so too with gender: the script remains bad, but the actors 
have a tiny bit of freedom. 44 

In the end, gender seems to be more trouble for us than we for it. 

Critique of Postmodern Feminism 

Some critics reject all postmodern feminism as “feminism for academicians.” 
As they see it, postmodern feminists are deliberately opaque, viewing clarity 
as one of the seven deadly sins of the phallogocentric order. These critics 
tend to dismiss postmodern feminists as contemporary Epicureans who 
withdraw from real revolutionary struggle — marches, campaigns, boycotts, 
protests — into a garden of intellectual delights. Surrounded by friends, by 
people who share their philosophical perspective, postmodern feminists “use 
language and ideas in such a specific way that no one else can understand 
what they are doing.” 45 Rarely do they leave their blissful surroundings, and 
as time passes, their sayings become increasingly irrelevant to the majority of 
women. 

Convinced that Butler’s thought in particular is no more than jargon for 
an elite group of feminists and other social critics, Nussbaum trivialized But- 
ler’s ideas about resistance. She claimed that Butler’s advice to feminists — 
namely, that the best they can do is to make fun of the institution of 
sex-gender that constrains women (and men) — is akin to someone’s advising 
abolitionists that the best they can do is to roll their eyes at the master-slave 
hierarchy that weakens slaves’ bodies and crushes slaves’ spirits. 46 But, con- 
tinued Nussbaum, in the nineteenth century, U.S. abolitionists did far more 
than roll their eyes at slavery. They fought with every ounce of their energy 
to achieve freedom for the slaves. Resistance to injustice is not a matter of 
personal sniping. It is a matter of public outrage. 

Nussbaum’s main disagreement with Butler is that Butler seems to reduce 
resistance to “jabbing” at one’s oppressors. Indeed, in Nussbaum’s estima- 
tion, Butler delights in the role of being oppressed. Specifically, Nussbaum 
claimed that the central thesis of Butler’s book The Psychic Life of Power is 
“that we all eroticize the power structures that oppress us, and can thus find 



284 Chapter 8: Postmodern and Third-Wave Feminism 

sexual pleasure only within their confines.” 47 In other words, real social 
change “would so uproot our psyches that it would make sexual satisfaction 
impossible.” 48 We would be forced to give up our sexual pacifiers if we were 
to engage in bona fide social revolution, and, above all, we do not want to 
lose what personally “turns us on.” Nussbaum found this conclusion about 
ourselves truly sad. She asserted that personal sexual pleasure is not our 
raison d’etre. Rather, doing good for others is the purpose of our lives: “Life 
. . . offers many scripts for resistance that do not focus narcissistically on per- 
sonal self-preservation. Such scripts involve feminists (and others of course) 
in building laws and institutions without much concern for how a woman 
displays her own body and its gendered nature: in short, they involve work- 
ing for others who are suffering.” 49 

Written in 1999, Nussbaum’s critique of Butler was very harsh and 
conceivably based on some misunderstanding of Butler’s full views on 
matters related to social resistance and personal satisfaction. In her 1994 
book, Undoing Gender, Butler insisted that she does not think “theory is 
sufficient for social and political transformation.” 50 In fact, she claimed, 

[Something] besides theory must take place, such as interventions at social 
and political levels that involve actions, sustained labor, and institutionalized 
practice, which are not quite the same as exercise of theory. I would add, 
however, that in all of these practices, theory is presupposed. We are all, in 
the very act of social transformation, lay philosophers, presupposing a vision 
of the world, of what is right, of what is just, of what is abhorrent, of what 
human action is and can be, of what constitutes the necessary and sufficient 
conditions of life. 51 

Butler may have indeed believed this all along, but it may have taken the 
strong words of critics like Nussbaum to prompt her to develop her thought 
in more applied and accessible directions. Such developments in Butler’s 
thinking are a testimony to the resilience of feminist thought, an encourag- 
ing sign that it is far from stopping dead in its tracks. 

Third-Wave Feminism 

If third-wave feminists share any characteristics, it is their willingness to 
accommodate diversity and change. They seem to be feminist sponges, 
willing and able to absorb some aspects of all the modes of feminist 
thought that preceded the third wave’s emergence on the scene. Third- 
wave feminists are particularly eager to understand how gender oppression 



Third - Wave Feminism 285 


and other kinds of human oppression co-create and co-maintain each 
other. For third-wave feminists, difference is the way things are. Moreover, 
contradiction, including self-contradiction, is expected and even willingly 
welcomed by third-wave feminists. So too is conflict. In fact, two leading 
third-wave feminists, Leslie Heywood and Jennifer Drake, commented 
that “Even as different strains of feminism and activism sometimes directly 
contradict each other, they are all part of our third-wave lives, our think- 
ing, and our praxes: we are products of all the contradictory definitions of 
and differences within feminism, beasts of such a hybrid kind that perhaps 
we need a different name altogether.” 52 

As part of their study of interlocking forms of oppression, third-wave 
feminists engage in research and writing that attends to the lives and prob- 
lems of specific groups of women. Like multicultural, postcolonial, and 
global feminists, third-wave feminists stress that women and feminists come 
in many colors, ethnicities, nationalities, religions, and cultural back- 
grounds. Thus, a typical third-wave feminist text will include articles about 
women who represent a wide variety of multicultural perspectives: Hispanic 
American, African American, Asian American, Native American, and so on. 
Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find any third-wave feminist article 
that is not heavily “hyphenated.” 

Third-wave feminists’ nuanced attention to women’s difference is on the 
right track of contemporary feminist thought, but it is also empirically and 
conceptually challenging. It is extraordinarily difficult to write an essay on 
the views of Hispanic American women, for example. For one thing, as we 
noted in Chapter 6, the category “Hispanic” is a 1970 creation of the U.S. 
Census Bureau. Not quite knowing how to label a variety of persons of 
“Spanish origin” living in the United States, government officials decided to 
label them all “Hispanic.” Unlike other Census Bureau designations, the 
term “Hispanic” denotes neither race nor color, and a Hispanic woman may 
be white, black, or American Indian. Moreover, a Hispanic woman may be 
Mexican American, Puerto Rican, or Cuban. She may prefer to be referred to 
as a Chicana or a Latina, eschewing the label “Hispanic” as the creation of 
“Anglos” interested in obscuring her true identity. 53 Thus, third-wave femi- 
nists do not presume to speak for Hispanic American women in particular, 
let alone women in general. 

Interestingly, precisely because they have had fears about misrepresenting the 
identities and issues of particular groups of women, third-wave feminists have 
managed to hear what women different from themselves are actually saying. 
More than other group of feminists so far, third-wave feminists have brought 
more different kinds of women, particularly women of color, to the feminist 



286 Chapter 8: Postmodern and Third-Wave Feminism 


table. A hopeful sign that feminism is well on its way to finally overcoming its 
“whiteness” is the publication of books like Colonize This! YoungWomen of Color 
on Todays Feminism, by Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman. 54 Hernandez 
and Rehman claimed their primary goal is to “introduce some of the ideas of 
women of color feminists to women who have thought that feminism is just a 
philosophy about white men and women and has nothing to do with our com- 
munities.” 55 They viewed their book as enabling women of color to forge their 
own unique brands of feminism through direcdy addressing their differences 
and, if possible, overcoming them. 

Hernandez and Rehman’s book, among others, has gone a long way to 
correct in part what multicultural, postcolonial, and global feminists have 
identified as the foremost failing of the second-wave women’s movement, 
namely, the imposed invisibility of women of color (see Chapter 6). Third- 
wave books let women of color speak for themselves about the gender issues 
they face and how these issues interlock with other issues they face, some of 
which these women may view as their main problems. For example, being a 
woman is not necessarily a black woman’s worst problem. Her “blackness,” 
more than her “womanness,” may be her paramount enemy. 

Aware of the contemporary scene — indeed, full participants in it — third- 
wave feminists emphasize that soon people of color will not constitute a minor- 
ity group in the United States. On the contrary: Not white people, but people 
of color will constitute the majority of the U.S. population. Significantly, third- 
wave feminists note that, in general, U.S. society is already increasingly com- 
fortable with people who are multiracial and multiethnic — who have 
transcended the boundaries of any one race or one ethnicity. They also observe 
that parents of children whose race or ethnicity is blended are starting to report 
that their children find white/nonwhite oppositions of little meaning or con- 
cern to them. In a New York Times article, one mother of three multiracial and 
diversely ethnic sons commented: “Race takes a backseat to what they listen to 
on their CD players, what movies they see. . . . One is into Japanese anime. 
Another is immersed in rap. Basically it’s the ghetto culture, but ghetto doesn’t 
mean poor or deprived, but hip.” 56 The same mother noted that one of her sons 
has a “hip-hop persona” and has friends whose skin color ranges from very 
white to very black. 

Clearly, being a third-wave feminist in a society where a growing number 
of young people choose their racial or ethnic classification is different from 
being a feminist in second-wave feminist days, when racial and ethnic identi- 
ties were largely imposed and worked against anyone who was nonwhite. 
Moreover, doing feminism as a third-wave feminist is very challenging in a 
global context, where women in developing nations interact with women in 



Third - Wave Feminism 287 


developed nations. According to third-wave feminist Chila Bulbeck, women 
in developing nations lead a particularly complex life because their world, 
the Third World, has two, contradictory identities. Bulbeck noted that the 
term “Third World” is “double valenced.” 57 The Third World can be under- 
stood either negatively as a backward, poor, and bad place to live, or posi- 
tively as “a subversive, immense repressed voice about to burst into centre 
stage of the globe.” 58 

But even though the Third World has positive potential, its negative actu- 
ality still works against the women who live in it, in Bulbeck’s estimation. 
Most Third World women are disadvantaged, as are women in the “Fourth 
World” (that is, the world in which indigenous people in settler societies 
live — for example, the world of Native American women in the United 
States). 59 Also disadvantaged are women in the “Fifth World” (i.e., the world 
of migrants and immigrants who have left their native lands either because 
they wanted to or because they had to — for example, African women in the 
United Kingdom). 60 Thus, third-wave feminists realize just how difficult it is 
to recognize, let alone to meet, diverse women’s needs. 

In addition to being open to women’s different social, economic, political, 
and cultural differences, third-wave feminists are open to women’s sexual dif- 
ferences. In the 1970s, feminists debated whether a woman, to be a real femi- 
nist, had to be a lesbian or at least reside on the “lesbian continuum” (which, 
as we noted in Chapter 6, ranged from women who simply supported 
women’s concerns to women living in long-term, intimate relationships with 
other women). These earlier feminists also discussed whether sex between het- 
erosexuals or lesbians had to be “vanilla,” “touchy-feely,” and utterly devoid of 
all pain and power games, or whether it could sometimes be “rocky road,” 
mechanical, rough, violent, and even manifestly sadomasochistic. Even more 
specifically, they wondered about the appropriateness of women working in 
the sex industry as porn models, call girls, lap dancers, exotic dancers, and 
prostitutes. These earlier feminists asked if these women were the victims of 
sexual objectification or dire economic conditions, or if they instead were 
cagey entrepreneurs who realized they could make far more money selling 
their sexual services than working as waitresses at local diners. Although some 
second-wave feminists applauded women who used their sexuality in ways 
that served their self-reported best interests, most second-wave feminists con- 
tinued to believe that the dangers of sex were greater than its pleasures and 
that women had best avoid catering to men’s sexual desires, commercializing 
their own bodies, and enjoying violent sex. 

In contrast to most second-wave feminists, third-wave feminists are less 
prescriptive about what counts as good sex for women. They are also more 



288 Chapter 8: Postmodern and Third-Wave Feminism 


comfortable about women enhancing their bodies to suit social norms and 
cultural expectations about what counts as beautiful. If a woman wants to 
wear makeup, have cosmetic surgery, wear sexually provocative clothes, sell 
her sexual services, then, as far as many third-wave feminists are concerned, 
she should feel free to do so, provided she feels empowered by her actions 
and not somehow demeaned, diminished, or otherwise objectified by them. 
Unlike second-wave feminists, third-wave feminists do not think, for exam- 
ple, that a woman’s choice to work as a porn model or a prostitute is neces- 
sarily the product of economic desperation, a history of past sexual abuse, or 
some sort of false consciousness that makes her think she likes using her body 
to make money when she really does not. On the contrary, third-wave femi- 
nists maintain that a woman can be both a feminist and a pom queen. The 
apparent contradiction, feminist pom queen, does not seem to bother third- 
wave feminists. 

For these reasons, third-wave feminists are shaping a new kind of feminism 
that is not so much interested in getting women to want what they should 
want, as in responding to what women say they want and not second-guess- 
ing or judging whether their wants are authentic or inauthentic. Third- wave 
feminists describe the context in which they practice feminism as one of 
“lived messiness.” 61 According to third-wave feminists Heywood and Drake, 
part of this messiness includes “girls who want to be boys, boys who want to 
be girls . . . blacks who want to or refuse to be white, people who are white 
and black, gay and straight, masculine and feminine.” 62 Similarly, another 
third-wave feminist, Rebecca Walker, speculated that because many third- 
wave feminists grew up “transgender, bisexual, interracial, and knowing and 
loving people who are racist, sexist, and otherwise afflicted,” they are not as 
judgmental as their second-wave feminist mothers were. Walker stressed that 
because “the lines between Us and Them are often blurred,” third-wave femi- 
nists seek to create identities that “accommodate ambiguity” and “multiple 
positionalities.” 63 

The nonjudgmental, nonprescriptive stance of third-wave feminism is 
further explained by Amy Richards: “I don’t think these women are saying 
‘I’m going to be female, going to be objectified, going to wear sexy clothes 
and so on and be part of the backlash against feminism.’ I think they’re 
saying, ‘I’m going to do all these things because I want to embrace my 
femininity.’” 64 Although many second-wave feminists take issue with 
third-wave feminists playing up their “femininity,” some do not. For ex- 
ample, second-wave feminist Anne Braithwaite reacted to third-wave fem- 
inists’ overt “sexiness” more sympathetically, commenting that this is the 
year 2007, not 1967: 



Critique of Third - Wave Feminism 289 


An engagement with . . . practices of seemingly traditional feminin- 
ity does not necessarily carry the same meanings for young women 
today or for the culture they live in than they might have to earlier 
feminist periods, and thus cannot be the point upon which to write 
off specific cultural practices as somehow apolitical and therefore 
“post”- or “anti”-feminist. 65 

For second-wave feminist Cathryn Bailey, the fact that younger feminists 
are focusing on their femininity is “a wake-up call for older feminists that 
what appears, from one perspective, to be conformist, may from another per- 
spective have subversive potential.” 66 

Critique of Third-Wave Feminism 

Because they enthusiastically embrace the idea that there is no all-encompassing 
single feminist idea, third-wave feminists seem better equipped than their sec- 
ond-wave mothers to deal with women’s differences. But it is not as if third- 
wave feminism is without faults of its own. At times, the home of third-wave 
feminism is so “messy” that not enough pots and pans can be found within it to 
cook a decent feminist meal. Not only is the essentialist notion “Woman” gone, 
but the category of gender has been broken into so many pieces that third-wave 
feminists cannot seem to get a grip on it. The home of third-wave feminists 
seems to be inhabited by a collection of strongly individual women, expressing 
each other’s different feelings to each other and leaving it at that. As Allison 
Howry and Julia Wood put it, “many young women today wear their ‘feminism 
lightly.’” 67 

According to feminist critics of third-wave feminism, this new form of 
feminist thought needs a list of core values — an agenda that rallies women to 
ally themselves with a goal that goes beyond just being oneself, doing what 
one wants to do, or being a person whose identity is almost overwhelmingly 
hyphenated and multicultural. Whereas the challenge for second-wave femi- 
nism was to learn to recognize and use women’s differences productively so as 
to overcome the idea that all women are necessarily victims or victims in the 
same sort of way, the challenge for third-wave feminists, say their critics, is to 
recognize that to have feminism, one has to believe that women constitute 
some sort of class or social group, and that just because some women feel 
empowered does not mean all women feel this way. 68 

Critics of third-wave feminism are particularly disturbed by its tendency to 
describe second-wave feminism as “victim feminism” and third-wave feminism 
as “power feminism.” In the hands of third-wave feminists like Heywood, 



290 Chapter 8: Postmodern and Third-Wave Feminism 


290 


Drake, and Walker, power feminism seems inviting enough, but in the hands 
of other thinkers, best labeled third-wave postfeminists, “power feminism” gets 
very mean-spirited. Writers like Katie Roiphe, Camille Paglia, and Rene Den- 
field insist that nowadays, women are free to be whoever they want to be and 
to do whatever they want to do. 69 Womens only possible enemy is themselves, 
these writers imply. According to critics of third-wave feminism, however, 
Roiphe, Paglia, and Denfield fail to recognize the vulnerability and victimiza- 
tion of women far less advantaged than they are. Women in the United States 
and many other developed nations may be more equal and free than they were 
fifty or even twenty-five years ago. But women in other nations, particularly 
developing nations, live in conditions more oppressive than even those condi- 
tions that challenged first-wave U.S. feminists at the turn of the nineteenth 
century. 

Conclusion 

Despite the criticisms raised against postmodern feminism and third-wave 
feminism, these two schools of thought remain two of the most exciting de- 
velopments in contemporary feminist thought. Although today’s feminists 
have distinctively different agendas, these thinkers share certain tendencies. 
One such tendency is a common desire to think nonbinary, nonopposi- 
tional thoughts, the kind of thoughts that may have existed before Adam 
was given the power to name the animals, to determine the beginnings and 
ends of things: “And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of 
the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see 
what he would call them — and whatsoever Adam called every living crea- 
ture, that was the name thereof.” 70 We can imagine this original state prior 
to Adam’s intrusion as a Taoist undifferentiated “uncarved block,” waiting 
to be carved into realities by the subjectivities of people situated in different 
times and places. 71 

Whether postmodern and third-wave feminists can, by carving the block 
and by speaking and writing, help overcome binary opposition, phallocen- 
trism, and logocentrism, is not certain. What is certain, however, is that the 
time has come for a new conceptual order. Bent upon achieving unity, we 
human beings have excluded, ostracized, and alienated so-called abnormal, 
deviant, and marginal people. As a result of this policy of exclusion, the hu- 
man community has been impoverished. It seems, then, that men as well as 
women have much to gain by joining a variety of postmodern and third- 
wave feminists in their attempts to shape a feminism that meets people’s 
needs in the new millennium. 



Conclusion 291 


Still, today’s feminists may have something to lose in the delight of living 
their own unique feminisms. They may lose themselves as women. Christine 
di Stephano responded to some current feminist attempts to destroy all cate- 
gories, including the category women-. 

Gender is basic in ways that we have yet to fully understand, ... it 
functions as “a difference that makes a difference,” even as it can no 
longer claim the legitimating mantle of the difference. The figure of the 
shrinking woman may perhaps be best appreciated and utilized as an 
aporia within contemporary theory: as a recurring paradox, question, 
dead end, or blind spot to which we must repeatedly return, because to 
ignore her altogether is to risk forgetting and thereby losing what is left 
of her. 72 

Third-wave feminism is probably not the last wave of feminism we will see. 
The “woman question” has yet to be fully answered. 



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Notes 


Introduction 

1. Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, ed. Carol H. Hos- 
ton (New York: W. W. Norton, 1975). 

2. John Stuart Mill, “The Subjection of Women,” in John Stuart Mill and Har- 
riet Taylor Mill, Essays on Sex Equality, ed. Alice S. Rossi (Chicago: University of 
Chicago Press, 1970), pp. 184-185. 

3. Catharine A. MacKinnon elaborated upon the sex/gender system in “Femi- 
nism, Marxism, Method, and the State: An Agenda for Theory,” Signs: Journal of 
Women in Culture and Society 7 , no. 3 (spring 1982): 515-516. 

4. Linda Alcoff, “Culture Feminism Versus Poststructuralism: The Identity Crisis 
in Feminist Theory,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 13, no. 31 (1988): 
408; Ann Ferguson, “The Sex Debate in the Women’s Movement: A Socialist-Feminist 
View,” Against the Current (September/October 1983): 10-16; Alice Echols, “The 
New Feminism of Yin and Yang,” in Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality, ed. Ann 
Snitow, Christine Stansell, and Sharon Thompson (New York: Monthly Review Press, 

1983) , p. 445. 

5. See Mary Vetterling-Braggin, ed., “ Femininity \ ” “Masculinity, ’’and “Androgyny” 
(Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1982), p. 6. 

6. Carol S. Vance, ed., Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality (Boston: 
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984). 

7. Rosemarie Tong, Women, Sex and the Laru (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 

1984) . 

8. Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston: Beacon 
Press, 1978). 

9. Charlotte Bunch, “Lesbians in Revolt,” in Women and Values, ed. Marilyn 
Pearsall (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1986), pp. 128-132. 


293 



294 Notes to Chapter One 


10. Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex (New York: Bantam Books, 1970). 

11. Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born (New York: W. W. Norton, 1976); Sara Rud- 
dick, “Maternal Thinking,” in Mothering: Essays in Feminist Theory , ed. Joyce Trebil- 
cot (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Allanheld, 1984). 

12. See, for example, Gena Corea, The Mother Machine: Reproductive Technologies 
from Artificial Insemination to Artificial Wombs (New York: Harper & Row, 1985). 

13. Friedrich Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (New 
York: International Publishers, 1972), p. 103. 

14. Juliet Mitchell, Womans Estate (New York: Pantheon Books, 1971). 

15. Alison M. Jaggar, Feminist Politics and Human Nature (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman 
& Allanheld, 1983), pp. 316-317. 

16. Dorothy Dinnerstein, The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements 
atid Human Malaise (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1977), p. 161. 

17. Sherry B. Ortner, “Oedipal Father, Mother’s Brother, and the Penis: A Review 
of Juliet Mitchell’s Psychoanalysis and Feminism ,” Feminist Studies 2, nos. 2-3 
(1975): 179. 

18. Nancy Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering (Berkeley: University of 
California Press, 1978). 

19. Ynestra King, “Healing the Wounds: Feminism, Ecology, and Nature/Culture 
Dualism,” in Feminism and Philosophy, ed. Nancy Tuana and Rosemarie Tong (Boul- 
der, Colo.: Westview Press, 1995). 

20. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New 
York: Routledge, 1990). 


Chapter One 

1. Douglas MacLean and Claudia Mills, eds., Liberalism Reconsidered (Totowa, 
N.J.: Rowman & Allanheld, 1983). 

2. Susan Wendell, “A (Qualified) Defense of Liberal Feminism,” Hypatia 2, no. 2 
(summer 1987): 65-94. 

3. Alison M. Jaggar, Feminist Politics and Human Nature (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman 
& Allanheld, 1983). 

4. Ibid., p. 33. 

5. Michael J. Sandel, ed., Liberalism and Its Critics (New York: New York Univer- 
sity Press, 1984), p. 4. 1 owe this reference to Michael Weber, who also clarified for me 
the distinction between the “right” and the “good.” 

6. Jaggar, Feminist Politics and Human Nature, p. 3 1 . 

7. According to Carole Pateman, the private world is one “of particularism, of 
subjection, inequality, nature, emotion, love and partiality” (Carole Pateman, The 
Problem of Political Obligation: A Critique of Liberal Theory [Berkeley: University of 
California Press, 1979], p. 190). 



Notes to Chapter One 295 


8. Again according to Pateman, the public world is one “of the individual, or 
universalism, of impartial rules and laws, of freedom, equality, rights, property, 
contract, self-interest, justice — and political obligation” (ibid., p. 198). 

9. Sandel employed this terminology in Liberalism and Its Critics, p. 4. 

10. Wendell, “A (Qualified) Defense of Liberal Feminism,” p. 66. 

11. Ibid., p. 90. 

12. Zillah Eisenstein, The Radical Future of Liberal Feminism (Boston: Northeastern 
University Press, 1986), pp. 96-99. 

13. Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, ed. Carol H. Poston 
(New York: W. W. Norton, 1975). 

14. Ibid., p. 56. 

15. Ibid., p. 23. 

16. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, trans. Allan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1979). 

17. Allan Bloom advanced a contemporary argument in support of sexual dimor- 
phism (Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind [New York: Simon & Schuster, 

1987], pp. 97-137). 

18. Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, p. 61. 

19. Ibid. 

20. Ibid., p. 152. 

21. Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, trans. H. J. Paton 
(New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1958). 

22. Jane Roland Martin, Reclaiming a Conversation: The Ideal of the Educated 
Woman (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985), p. 76. 

23. Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, p. 152. 

24. Judith A. Sabrosky, From Rationality to Liberation (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood 
Press, 1979), p. 31. 

25. Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, p. 147. 

26. Ironically, Wollstonecraft’s personal life was driven by emotions. As Eisenstein, 
The Radical Future of Liberal Feminism, p. 106, described it, Wollstonecraft “tried un- 
successfully to live the life of independence.” 

27. Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, p. 34. 

28. Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, pp. 63-64, 79, 95-98. 

29. Alice S. Rossi, “Sentiment and Intellect: The Story of John Stuart Mill and 
Harriet Taylor Mill,” in John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill, Essays on Sex 
Equality, ed. Alice S. Rossi (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), p. 28. 

30. John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor Mill, “Early Essays on Marriage and Di- 
vorce,” in Mill and Taylor Mill, Essays on Sex Equality, , pp. 75, 81, and 86. 

31. Ibid., p. 75. 

32. Harriet Taylor Mill, “Enfranchisement of Women,” in Mill and Taylor Mill, 
Essays on Sex Equality, p. 95. 

33. Ibid., p. 104 (emphasis mine). 



296 Notes to Chapter One 


34. Ibid., p. 105. 

35. Mill and Taylor, “Early Essays on Marriage and Divorce,” pp. 74-75. 

36. Taylor Mill, “Enfranchisement of Women,” p. 105. 

37. Richard Krouse, “Mill and Marx on Marriage, Divorce, and the Family,” Social 
Concept 1, no. 2 (September 1983): 48. 

38. Eisenstein, The Radical Future of Liberal Feminism, p. 131. 

39. John Stuart Mill, “The Subjection of Women,” in Mill and Taylor Mill, Essays 
on Sex Equality, p. 221. 

40. Susan Moller Okin, Women in Western Political Thought (Princeton, N.J.: 
Princeton University Press, 1979), pp. 197-232. 

41. Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, p. 77. 

42. Mill, “The Subjection of Women,” p. 186. 

43. Ibid., p. 154. 

44. Ibid., p. 213. 

45. John Stuart Mill, “Periodical Literature ‘Edinburgh Review,’” Westminster Review 
1, no. 2 (April 1824): 526. 

46. Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, p. 39. 

47. See Mill’s description of Harriet Taylor in John Stuart Mill, Autobiography 
(London: Oxford University Press, 1924), pp. 156-160. 

48. Mill, “The Subjection ofWomen,” p. 177. 

49. Angela Y. Davis, Women, Race and Class (New York: Random House, 1981), p. 42. 

50. Judith Hole and Ellen Levine, Rebirth of Feminism (New York: Quadrangle 
Books, 1971), p. 3. 

51. Ibid., p. 434. 

52. Ibid. 

53. Ibid., p. 435 

54. Quoted in Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn 
Gage, History ofWoman Sujfrage, vol. 1 (1848-1861) (New York: Fowler and Wells, 
1881), pp. 115-117. 

55. Davis, Women, Race and Class, p. 75. 

56. Hole and Levine, Rebirth of Feminism, p. 14. 

57. Maren Lockwood Carden, The New Feminist Movement (New York: Russell 
Sage Foundation, 1974), p. 3. 

58. Ibid., p. 16. 

59. Caroline Bird, Bom Female (New York: David McKay Company, 1968), p. 1. 

60. Betty Friedan, “N.O.W.: How It Began,” Women Speaking, April 1967, p. 4. 

61. “NOW (National Organization for Women) Bill of Rights (Adopted at NOW’s 
first national conference, Washington, D.C., 1967),” in Sisterhood Is Powerful, ed. 
Robin Morgan (New York: Random House, 1970), pp. 513-514. 

62. All these issues were addressed in Patricia Tjadens and Nancy Thoenes, Full Re- 
port of the Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women (Washing- 
ton, D.C.: National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Prevention, 2000). 



Notes to Chapter One 297 


63. Report of the President, Second National Conference of NOW, Washington, 
D.C., November 18, 1967,” cited in Hole and Levine, Rebirth of Feminism, p. 6. 

64. Betty Friedan, National Organization for Women, Memorandum, September 
22, 1969. 

65. Carden, The New Fetninist Movement, p. 113. 

66. Alice Echols, Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America 1967—1975 
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), p. 215. 

67. Patricia Ireland, “The State of NOW,” Ms., July/ August 1992, pp. 24-27. 

68. Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: Dell, 1974). 

69. Ibid., pp. 69-70. 

70. Ibid., pp. 22-27. 

71. Ibid., p. 380. 

72. Ibid., p. 330. 

73. Betty Friedan, The Second Stage (New York: Summit Books, 1981). 

74. Ibid., pp. 20-21. 

75. Ibid., p. 67. 

76. Ibid., p. 28. 

77. Ibid., p. 27. 

78. Eisenstein, The Radical Future of Liberal Feminism, p. 190. 

79. Ibid. 

80. Friedan, The Second Stage, p. 112. 

81. Ibid., p. 148. 

82. James Sterba, “Feminism Has Not Discriminated Against Men,” in Does Fem- 
inism Discriminate Against Men?: A Debate, ed. Warren Farrell and James P. Sterba 
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007). 

83. Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, pp. 362 and 363. 

84. See Judith Stacey, “The New Conservative Feminism,” Feminist Studies 9, no. 
3 (fall 1983): 562. 

85. Friedan, The Second Stage, pp. 248, 249. 

86. Ibid., p. 249. 

87. Quoted in John Leo, “Are Women ‘Male Clones’?” Time, August 18, 1986, 
p. 63. 

88. Quoted in ibid., p. 64. 

89. Betty Friedan, The Fountain of Age (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 
p. 157. 

90. Ibid., p. 638. 

91. Friedan, The Second Stage, p. 342. 

92. Ibid., p. 41 

93. Eisenstein, The Radical Future of Liberal Feminism, p. 176. 

94. For a detailed discussion of the distinction between sex and gender, see Ethel 
Spector Person, “Sexuality As the Mainstay of Identity: Psychoanalytic Perspectives,” 
Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 5, no. 4 (summer 1980): 606. 



298 Notes to Chapter One 


95. Jean-Marie Navetta, “Gains in Learning, Gaps in Earning,” AAUW Outlook 
(spring 2005): 12. 

96. Cited in Hunter College Women’s Studies Collective, Womens Realities, 
Womens Choices: An Introduction to Womens Studies (New York: Oxford University 
Press, 1983), p. 521. 

97. Not all liberal feminists agree that women and minority male candidates should 
be viewed as equally disadvantaged. The more liberal a liberal feminist is, the more likely 
she is to view gender and race or ethnic disadvantages as on a par. The more feminist a 
liberal feminist is, the more likely she is to focus her attention exclusively on women. 

98. Jane English, “Sex Roles and Gender: Introduction,” in Feminism and Philosophy, 
ed. Mary Vetterling-Braggin, Frederick A. Elliston, and Jane English (Totowa, N.J.: 
Rowman & Littlefield, 1977), p. 39. 

99. There is much debate about how factors such as race, class, and ethnicity affect 
the social construction of gender. See Carol Stack, All Our Kin (New York: Harper & 
Row, 1974). 

100. By no means has the interest in androgyny been confined to liberal femi- 
nists. Radical feminists have also explored this notion, expressing, however, more 
reservations about it. 

101. Carolyn G. Heilbrun, Toward the Promise of Androgyny (New York: Alfred 
A. Knopf, 1973), pp. x-xi. 

102. Sandra L. Bern, “Probing the Promise of Androgyny,” in Beyond Sex-Role 
Stereotypes: Reading Toiuard a Psychology of Androgyny, ed. Alexandra G. Kaplan and 
Joan P. Bean (Boston: Little, Brown, 1976), pp. 5 Iff. 

103. Although not a liberal feminist, Joyce Trebilcot has forwarded an analysis of 
androgyny that liberal feminists have found useful. See Joyce Trebilcot, “Two Forms 
of Androgynism,” in “Femininity,” “Masculinity,” and “Androgyny,” ed. Mary Vetter- 
ling-Braggin (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1982), pp. 161-170. 

104. Jaggar, Feminist Politics and Human Nature, p. 28. 

105. Ibid., pp. 40-42. 

106. Ibid., p. 41. 

107. Naomi Scheman, “Individualism and the Objects of Psychology,” in Discovering 
Reality: Feminist Perspectives on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Methodology, and the Philoso- 
phy of Science, ed. Sandra Harding and Merrill B. Hintikka (Dordrecht, Netherlands: D. 
Reidel, 1983), pp. 225-244. 

108. Ibid., p. 232. 

109. Wendell, “A (Qualified) Defense of Liberal Feminism,” p. 66. 

110. Ibid. 

111. Ibid., p. 76. 

112. Jean Bethke Elshtain, “Feminism, Family and Community,” Dissent 29 (fall 
1982): 442. 

1 13. Jean Bethke Elshtain, Public Man, Private Woman (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton 
University Press, 1981), p. 252. 



Notes to Chapter Two 299 


114. In the nineteenth century, many of the suffragists waxed eloquently about 
women’s moral superiority. See Ida Husted Harper, ed., History of Woman Suffrage, 
vol. 5 (New York: National American Woman Suffrage Association, 1922), p. 126. 
See, for example, the section on feminist ethics in Marilyn Pearsall, ed., Women and 
Values (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1986), pp. 266-364. 

115. Elshtain, Public Man, Private Woman, p. 253. 

1 16. Ibid., p. 243. 

117. Ibid., p. 251. 

118. Ibid., p. 336. 

119. Ibid., p. 237. 

120. Barbara Arneil, Politics and Feminism (Oxford: Blackwell Press, 1999), p. 147. 

121. Angela Y. Davis, “Reflections on the Black Woman’s Role in the Community 
of Slaves,” Black Scholar 3 (1971): 7. 

122. Ireland, “The State of NOW,” p. 26. 

123. Elizabeth Erlich, “Do the Sunset Years Have to Be Gloomy?” New York 
Times Book Revieiv, 1994, p. 18. 

124. Ibid. 

125. Quoted in Hole and Levine, Rebirth of Feminism, p. 94. 

126. Ellen Willis, “The Conservatism of Ms.,” in Feminist Revolution, ed. Red- 
stockings (New York: Random House, 1975), pp. 170-171. 

127. One of these exceptions is Janet Radcliffe Richards, The Skeptical Feminist 
(London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980). 

128. Willis, “The Conservatism of Ms.,” p. 170. 

129. Wendell, “A (Qualified) Defense of Liberal Feminism,” p. 86. 

130. Ruth Groenhout, “Essentialist Challenges to Liberal Feminism,” Social 
Theory and Practice 28, no. 1 (January 2002): 57. 

131. Ibid. 


Chapter Two 

1 . See Judith Hole and Ellen Levine, Rebirth of Feminism (New York: Quadran- 
gle, 1971), p. 108. 

2. Ibid. 

3. Valerie Bryson, Feminist Debates: Issues of Theory and Political Practice (New 
York: New York University Press, 1999), p. 27. 

4. Alison M. Jaggar and Paula S. Rothenberg, eds., Feminist Frameworks (New 
York: McGraw-Hill, 1984), p. 186. 

5. Joreen Freeman, as quoted in Anne Koedt, Ellen Levine, and Anita Rapone, 
eds., Radical Feminism (New York: Quadrangle, 1973), p. 52. 

6. Alice Echols, “The New Feminism of Yin and Yang,” in Powers of Desire: The 
Politics of Sexuality, ed. Ann Snitow, Christine Stansell, and Sharon Thompson (New 
York: Monthly Review Press, 1983), p. 44 5. 



300 Notes to Chapter Two 


7. Ibid. 

8. Alison M. Jaggar, “Feminist Ethics,” in Encyclopedia of Ethics, ed. Lawrence 
Becker with Charlotte Becker (New York: Garland, 1992), p. 364. 

9. Echols, “The New Feminism of Yin and Yang,” p. 440. 

10. Linda Alcoff, “Cultural Feminism Versus Poststructuralism: The Identity Crisis 
in Feminist Theory,” Signs: Journal ofWomen in Culture and Society 13, no. 3 (1988): 
408. 

1 1 . Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic in Women,” in Toward an Anthropology ofWomen, 
ed. Rayna R. Reiter (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975), p. 159. 

12. Hester Eisenstein, Contemporary Feminist Thought (Boston: G. K. Hall, 
1983), p. 8. 

13. Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970), p. 25. 

14. Ibid., pp. 43-46. 

15. Henry Miller, Sexus (New York: Grove Press, 1965), pp. 181-182. 

16. Millett, Sexual Politics, p. 178. 

17. Herbert Barry III, Margaret K. Bacon, and Irwin L. Child, “A Cross-Cultural 
Survey of Some Sex Differences in Socialization,” in Selected Studies in Marriage and 
the Family, 2nd ed., ed. Robert F. Winch, Robert McGinnis, and Herbert R. Barringer 
(New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962), p. 267. 

18. In the 1970s, Millett asserted that what society needs is a single standard of 
“sex freedom” for boys and girls and a single standard of parental responsibility for 
fathers and mothers. Without such unitary standards for sexual and parental be- 
havior, equality between men and women will remain ephemeral (Millett, Sexual 
Politics, p. 62). 

19. Ibid. 

20. Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex (New York: Bantam Books, 1970), 
p. 59. 

21. Ibid., p. 175. 

22. Ibid. 

23. Ibid., p. 190. 

24. Ibid., pp. 191 and 242. 

25. Marilyn French, Beyond Power: On Women, Men and Morals (New York: Summit 
Books, 1985), p. 72. 

26. Ibid., pp. 25-66. 

27. Ibid., p. 67. 

28. Ibid., p. 69. 

29. Ibid., p. 68. 

30. Ibid., p. 443. 

31. Joyce Trebilcot, “Conceiving Wisdom: Notes on the Logic of Feminism,” Sinister 
Wisdom 3 (fall 1979): 46. 

32. Alison M. Jaggar, Feminist Politics and Human Nature (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman 
&Allanheld, 1983), p. 252. 



Notes to Chapter Two 301 


33. French, Beyond Power, pp. 487-488. 

34. Dorothy Dinnerstein, The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements 
and Human Malaise (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1977), p. 5. 

35. French, Beyond Power, p. 538. 

36. Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father: Toivard a Philosophy of Womens Liberation 
(Boston: Beacon Press, 1973). 

37. Using French’s terminology in this context, we may say that an immanent 
God infuses women with the “power-to-grow” into their own image and likeness 
rather than be molded into the image and likeness of a transcendent God interested 
only in expressing his “power-over” others. 

38. Alice Rossi, “Sex Equality: The Beginning of Ideology,” in Masculine/Feminine, 
ed. Betty Roszak and Theodore Roszak (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), pp. 
173-186. 

39. Daly, Beyond God the Father, p. 105. 

40. Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston: Beacon 
Press, 1978), p. 59. 

41. Ibid., pp. 107-312. 

42. Ibid., p. xi. 

43. Ibid., p. 68. 

44. See Ann-Janine Morey-Gaines, “Metaphor and Radical Feminism: Some 
Cautionary Comments on Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology Soundings 65, no. 3 (fall 
1982): 347-348. 

45. Daly, Gyn/Ecology, p. 334. 

46. Ibid., p. 336. 

47. Ibid., p. 337. 

48. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Walter Kauf- 
mann and R. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage Books, 1969), p. 44. 

49. Daly, Gyn/Ecology, pp. 14-15. 

50. Mary Daly, Pure Lust: Elemental Feminist Philosophy (Boston: Beacon Press, 
1984), p. 203. 

51. Ibid., p. 2. 

52. Ibid., pp. 2-3. 

53. Ibid., p. 35. 

54. Ibid., p. 204. 

55. Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: Dell, 1974). 

56. Daly, Pure Lust, p. 206. 

57. See Carole S. Vance, “Pleasure and Danger: Toward a Politics of Sexuality,” in 
Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, ed. Carole S. Vance (Boston: Routledge 
& Kegan Paul, 1984), pp. 1-27. 

58. Ann Ferguson, “Sex War: The Debate Between Radical and Liberation Femi- 
nists,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 10, no. 1 (autumn 1984): 109. 

59. Ibid., p. 108. 



302 Notes to Chapter Two 


60. Ibid. 

61. Ibid., p. 109. 

62. Gayle Rubin, “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of 
Sexuality,” in Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, ed. Carole S. Vance 
(Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984), pp. 275-301. 

63. Ibid., p. 275. 

64. Ibid., p. 278. 

65. Alice Echols, “The Taming of the Id,” in Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female 
Sexuality, ed. Carole S. Vance (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984), p. 59. 

66. Ibid. 

67. Ibid. 

68. Rubin, “Thinking Sex,” p. 278. 

69. Radicalesbians, “The Woman-Identified- Woman,” in Radical Feminism: A 
Documentary Reader, ed. Barbara A. Crow (New York: New York University Press, 
2000), p. 236. 

70. Deirdre English, Amber Hollibaugh, and Gayle Rubin, “Talking Sex: A Conver- 
sation on Sexuality and Feminism,” in Socialist Review 1 1, no 4 (July/August 1981): 53. 

71. See the debate between Christina Hoff Sommers and Marilyn Friedman in 
Marilyn Friedman and Jan Narveson, Political Correctness: For and Against (Lanham, 
Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1995), pp. 36-37. 

72. Catharine A. MacKinnon, “Francis Biddle’s Sister: Pornography, Civil Rights, 
and Speech,” in Feminism Unmodified: Disclosures on Life and Law (Cambridge, 
Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 176. 

73. Catharine A. MacKinnon, “Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: An 
Agenda for Theory,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 7, no. 3 (spring 
1982): 533. 

74. Appendix I, Minneapolis, Minn., Code of Ordinances, title 7, ch. 139, 1 
amending 39.10. 

75. Stuart Taylor Jr., “Pornography Foes Lose New Weapons in Supreme Court,” 
New York Times, February 25, 1986, p. 1. 

76. Nan D. Hunter and Sylvia A. Law, Brief Amici Curiae of Feminist Anti- 
Censorship Task Force et al. to U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, 
American Booksellers Association, Inc. et al. v. William H. Hudnut III et al. (April 
18, 1985): 9-18. 

77. Ibid., p. 11. 

78. MacKinnon, “Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State,” p. 533. 

79. Ann Koedt, “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm,” Notes from the Second Year: 
Womens Liberation — Major Writings of the Radical Feminists (April 1970), p. 41. 

80. Ibid. 

81. Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” in 
Living with Contradictions: Controversies in Feminist Social Ethics, ed. Alison M. 
Jaggar (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1994), p. 488. 



Notes to Chapter Two 303 


82. Deirdre English, quoted in Hole and Levine, Rebirth of Feminism, p. 221. 

83. English, Hollibaugh, and Rubin, “Talking Sex,” p. 49. 

84. See “Redstockings Manifesto,” in Sisterhood Is Powerful, ed. Robin Morgan 
(New York: Random House, 1970), p. 534. 

85. English, Hollibaugh, and Rubin, “Talking Sex,” p. 50. 

86. “Redstockings Manifesto,” p. 534. 

87. “New York Covens’ Leaflet,” in Sisterhood Is Poiverful, ed. Robin Morgan 
(New York: Random House, 1970), pp. 539-540. 

88. Friedrich Engels, Socialism: Utopian or Scientific, quoted in Firestone, The 
Dialectic of Sex, pp. 1-12. 

89. Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex, p. 12. 

90. Because the claim that biology is the cause of women’s oppression sounds 
similar to the claim that women’s biology is their destiny, it is important to stress 
the difference between these two claims. Whereas conservatives believe that the 
constraints of nature exist necessarily, radical feminists insist that it is within 
women’s power to overcome the constraints. For some conservative views, see 
George Gilder, Sexual Suicide (New York: Quadrangle, 1973), and Lionel Tiger, 
Men in Groups (New York: Random House, 1969). For some feminist views, see 
Mary Vetterling-Braggin, ed., “ Femininity “ Masculinity and “ Androgyny ” (To- 
towa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1982). 

91. Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex, p. 12. 

92. Ibid., pp. 198-199. 

93. Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time (New York: Fawcett Crest Books, 
1976). 

94. Ibid., p. 102. 

95. Ibid., pp. 105-106. 

96. Ibid., p. 183. 

97. Azizah al-Hibri, Research in Philosophy and Technology, ed. Paul T. Durbin 
(London: JAL Press, 1984), vol. 7, p. 266. 

98. Anne Donchin, “The Future of Mothering: Reproductive Technology and 
Feminist Theory,” Hypatia 1, no. 2 (fall 1986): 131. 

99. Mary O’Brien, The Politics of Reproduction (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 
1981). 

100. Ibid., pp. 8, 20flf., and 35-36. See also Sara Ann Ketchum, “New Reproductive 
Technologies and the Definition of Parenthood: A Feminist Perspective” (photocopy, 
June 18, 1987). Paper given at the Feminism and Legal Theory Conference at the Uni- 
versity ofWisconsin-Madison, summer 1987. 

101. Adrienne Rich, OfWoman Born (New York: W. W. Norton, 1979), p. 111. 

102. Ibid., pp. 38-39. 

103. Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex, p. 199. 

104. Andrea Dworkin, Right-Wing Women (New York: Coward-McCann, 1983), 
pp. 187-188. 



304 Notes to Chapter Two 


105. Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (New York: Fawcett Crest Books, 
1985). 

106. Ibid., p. 164. 

107. Genea Corea, The Mother Machine: Reproduction Technologies from Artificial 
Insemination to Artificial Wombs (New York: Harper & Row, 1985), pp. 107-119. 

108. Genea Corea, “Egg Snatchers,” in Test-Tube Women: What Future for Mother- 
hood? ed. Rita Arditti, Renate Duelli Klein, and Shelley Minden (London: Pandora 
Press, 1984), p. 45. 

1 09. Robyn Rowland, “Reproductive Technologies: The Final Solution to the Woman 
Question,” in Test-Tube Women: What Future for Motherhood? ed. Rita Arditti, Renate 
Duelli Klein, and Shelley Minden (London: Pandora Press, 1984), pp. 365-366. 

110. Ibid., p. 368. 

111. Alison M. Jaggar, Feminist Politics and Human Nature (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman 
&Allanheld, 1983), p. 256. 

112. Ann Oakley, Womans Work: The Housewife, Past and Present (New York: Pan- 
theon Books, 1974), p. 186. 

113. Ibid.,pp. 187, 199. 

1 14. Ibid., p. 201. 

115. Ibid., pp. 201-203. 

1 16. Ibid., p. 203. 

117. The claim that adopted children fare just as well as biological children is 
more controversial than Oakley believed. See, for example, Betty Reid Mendell, 
Where Are the Children? A Close Analysis of Foster Care atid Adoption (Lexington, 
Mass.: Lexington Books, 1973). 

118. The kibbutzim have come under fire, however. See, for example, “The Path- 
ogenic Commune,” Science News 122, no. 76 (July 3, 1982): 76. 

119. Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex, p. 229. 

120. Ibid., pp. 228-230. 

121. Rich, Of Woman Born, p. 174. 

122. Ibid., p. 13. 

123. Ibid., p. 57. 

124. Ibid., p. 13. 

125. Ibid., p. 57. 

126. Ibid., pp. 31-32. 

127. Because the term “surrogate mother” suggests that such a woman is not a real 
mother but a substitute mother, many feminists prefer the term “contracted mother.” 

128. Corea, The Mother Machine, pp. 213-249. 

129. “A Surrogate’s Story of Loving and Losing,” U.S. Neivs dr World Report, June 
6, 1983, p. 12. 

130. Boston Globe, October 2, 1987, p. 1. 

131. Jean Bethke Elshtain, Public Man, Private Woman (Princeton, N.J.: Prince- 
ton University Press, 1981), p. 226. 



Notes to Chapter Three 305 


132. Mary R. Beard, Woman As Force in History (New York: Collier Books, 1972). 

133. Sheila Rowbotham, Women, Resistance atid Revolution (New York: Vintage 
Books, 1972). 

134. Elshtain, Public Man, Private Woman, p. 228. 

135. Ibid., p. 213. 

136. Audre Lorde, “An Open Letter to Mary Daly,” in This Bridge Called My 
Back, ed. Cherne Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua (Watertown, Mass.: Persephone 
Press, 1981), pp. 94-97. 

137. Elshtain, Public Man, Private Woman, p. 226. 

138. Ibid., p. 225. 

139. Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” p. 488. 

140. Ann Ferguson, “The Sex Debate in the Women’s Movement: A Socialist- 
Feminist View,” Against the Current (September/October 1983): 12. 

141. Ibid. 

142. Ibid., p. 13. 

143. Ibid, (emphasis mine). 

144. Ibid. 


Chapter Three 

1. Karl Marx, Capital (New York: International Publishers, 1967), vol. 3, p. 791. 

2. Nancy Holmstrom, “The Socialist Feminist Project,” Monthly Revieiv Press 54, 
no. 10 (2002): 1. 

3. Richard Schmitt, Introduction to Marx and Engels (Boulder, Colo.: Westview 
Press, 1987), pp. 7-8. 

4. Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (New York: 
International Publishers, 1972), pp. 20-21. 

5. Schmitt, Introduction to Marx and Engels, p. 14. 

6. Nancy Holmstrom, “A Marxist Theory of Women’s Nature,” Ethics 94, no. 1 
(April 1984): 464. 

7. Robert L. Heilbroner, Marxism: For atid Against (New York: W. W. Norton, 
1980), p. 107. 

8. Henry Burrows Acton, What Marx Really Said {London-. MacDonald, 1967), p. 41. 

9. Ernest Mandel, An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory (New York: 
Pathfinder Press, 1970), p. 25. 

10. Marx’s discussion of surplus value and exploitation is found in his three- volume 
work Capital, particularly volumes 1 and 2. For a more detailed introduction to these 
concepts, see Wallis Arthur Suchting, Marx: An Introduction (New York: New York 
University Press, 1983). 

1 1 . Schmitt, Introduction to Marx and Engels, pp. 96-97. 

12. For an elaboration of these points, see Mandel, An Introduction to Marxist 
Economic Theory. 



306 Notes to Chapter Three 


13. Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (New York: International 
Publishers, 1968), p. 608. 

14. Here the term class is being used in a sense that falls short of the technical Marxist 
sense. As we shall see, it is very debatable that women form a true class. For an excellent 
discussion of the phrase bourgeois feminism, see Marilyn J. Boxer, “Rethinking the So- 
cialist Construction and International Career of the Concept ‘Bourgeois Feminism,” 
American Historical Review 112, no. 1 (February 2007): 131-158. 

15. Allen W. Wood, Karl Marx (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981), p. 8. 

16. Heilbroner, Marxism: For and Against, p. 72. 

17. Karl Marx, “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts,” in Early Writings, ed. 
T. B. Bottomore (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), p. 122. I owe this reference as 
well as several good analyses of alienation to Michael Weber. 

18. Ann Foreman, Femininity As Alienation: Women and the Family in Marxism 
and Psychoanalysis (London: Pluto Press, 1977), p. 65. 

19. Ibid., pp. 101-102. 

20. Quoted in David McLellan, Karl Marx (New York: Penguin Books, 1975), p. 
33. 

21. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology, in The Marx-Engels 
Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978), p. 199. 

22. Schmitt, Introduction to Marx and Engels, p. 202. 

23. Friedrich Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (New 
York: International Publishers, 1972), p. 103. 

24. Ibid. 

25. Notions of hunting and gathering as popularized from anthropological studies 
are often oversimplified. We should be aware, therefore, of the danger of attributing 
a rigid sexual division of labor to “hunting and gathering” societies, past and present. 
Women and children may contribute meat to the diet, just as men may contribute 
root or grain foods. Noticing Engels’s dependence on stereotypical ideas of women’s 
and men’s work should lead readers to view Engels’s account as less-than-accurate 
history. I owe this reminder to Antje Haussen Lewis. 

26. Engels quoted approvingly the controversial thesis of a now largely discredited 
anthropologist. The thesis was that women in pairing societies wielded considerable 
political as well as economic power: “The women were the great power among the 
clans, [gentes], as everywhere else. They did not hesitate, when occasion required to 
knock off the horns,’ as it was technically called, from the head of a chief, and send him 
back to the ranks of the warriors” (Engels, Origin of the Family, p. 113). Apparently, it 
did not strike Engels as odd that a powerful matriarch would let herself be forcibly 
seized as a wife by a man whose “horns” she could have had “knocked off.” 

27. Ibid. 

28. Lise Vogel, Marxism and the Oppression of Women: Towards a Unitary Theory 
(New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1983), p. 82. 

29. Engels, Origin of the Family, p. 1 17. 



Notes to Chapter Three 307 


30. Jane Flax asked why a group of matriarchs would have let men control the 
tribe’s animals or use the fact of their control to gain power over women (Jane Flax, 
“Do Feminists Need Marxism?” in Building Feminist Theory: Essays from “Quest,” a 
Feminist Quarterly [New York: Longman, 1981], p. 176). 

31. Engels, Origin of the Family, p. 117. 

32. Marx and Engels, German Ideology, p. 201. 

33. Engels, Origin of the Family, pp. 118-119. 

34. Ibid., p. 120. 

35. Ibid., p. 121. 

36. Ibid., p. 137. 

37. Ibid., p. 128. 

38. Ibid., pp. 137-139. 

39. Ibid., p. 79. 

40. Barrett, Womens Oppression Today: Problems in Marxist Feminist Analysis (Lon- 
don: Verso, 1980), p. 49. 

41. Evelyn Reed, “Women: Caste, Class, or Oppressed Sex?” International Socialist 
Review 31, no. 3 (September 1970): 15-17 and 40-41. 

42. Ibid., p. 17. 

43. Ibid. 

44. Ibid., p. 40. 

45. Ibid. 

46. Ibid., p. 41. 

47. Truth be told, much factory work, for example, turned out to be as meaning- 
less for “socialist” workers as it had been for capitalist workers. 

48. Olga Voronina, “Soviet Patriarchy: Past and Present,” Hypatia 8, no. 4 (fall 
1993): 107. 

49. Margaret Benston, “The Political Economy of Women’s Liberation,” Monthly 
Review 21, no. 4 (September 1969): 16. 

50. Ibid., p. 21. 

5 1 . Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, “Women and the Subversion of the 
Community,” in The Poiver of Women and the Subversion of Community (Bristol, En- 
gland: Falling Wall Press, 1972), p. 34. 

52. In the final analysis, Dalla Costa and James viewed men as the dupes of capital 
rather than as the wily oppressors of women. Men, they said, appear to be the sole re- 
cipients of domestic services, but in fact “the figure of the boss is concealed behind 
that of the husband” (ibid., pp. 35-36). 

53. Wendy Edmond and Suzie Fleming expressed the same conviction in even 
more forceful terms: “Housewives keep their families in the cheapest way; they nurse 
the children under the worst circumstances and all the toiling of thousands of house- 
wives enables the possessing classes to increase their riches, and to get the labour- 
power of men and children in the most profitable way” (Wendy Edmond and Suzie 
Fleming, “If Women Were Paid for All They Do,” in All Work and No Pay, ed. 



308 Notes to Chapter Three 


Wendy Edmond and Suzie Fleming [London: Power of Women Collective and 
Falling Wall Press, 1975], p. 8). 

54. See Ann Crittenden Scott, “The Value of Housework for Love or Money?” 
Ms., June 1972, pp. 56-58. 

55. Ibid. 

56. See Bruce H. Webster Jr. and Alemayehu Bishaw, U.S. Census Bureau, “In- 
come, Earnings, and Poverty Data from the 2005 American Community Survey: 
American Community Survey Reports,” ACS-02 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Govern- 
ment Printing Office, 2006), available at www.census.gov+acs-02.pdf, p. 7. Unless a 
woman’s salary is quite high, it may cost more for her to work outside the home than 
simply to work within the home. See Barbara Bergmann, The Economic Emergence of 
Women (New York: Basic Books, 1986), p. 212. 

57. U.S. Department of Labor, Employment Standards Administration Wage and 
Hour Division, January 1, 2007 available at www.dol.gov/ esa/minwage/america.htm# 
content. 

58. Carol Lopate, “Pay for Housework?” Social Policy 5, no. 3 (September-October 
1974): 28. 

59. Ibid., pp. 29-31. 

60. Observed in Stevi Jackson, “Marxism and Feminism,” in Marxism atid Social 
Science, ed. Andrew Gamble, David Marsh, and Tony Tant (Champaign: University 
of Illinois Press, 1999), p. 17. 

61. Chris Beasley, What Is Feminism i (London: Sage Publications, 1999), pp. 
62-64. 

62. Ibid., p. 64. 

63. Juliet Mitchell, Womans Estate (New York: Pantheon Books, 1971), pp. 
100—101 (emphasis mine). 

64. Mitchell was convinced that women’s limited role in production cannot be ex- 
plained solely or even primarily by their supposed physical weakness. In the first 
place, men have forced women to do “women’s work,” and “women’s work in all its 
varieties requires much physical strength. Second, even if women are not as physi- 
cally strong as men, and even if their original, limited role in production can be at- 
tributed to their gap in strength, this same gap cannot explain women’s current, 
limited role in production” (ibid., p. 104). 

65. Ibid., p. 107. 

66. Ibid. 

67. Alison M. Jaggar, Feminist Politics and Human Nature (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman 
&Allanheld, 1983), pp. 114-115 and 308. 

68. Ibid., pp. 309-310. 

69. Ibid., pp. 310-311. 

70. Although Jaggar did not make specific points about in vitro fertilization, the 
points I raise here seem to fit her analysis. 



Notes to Chapter Three 309 


71. “Percentage of women leading medical research studies rises, but still lags 
behind men.” Massachusetts General Hospital news release. July 19, 2006. 
http://www.massgeneral.org/news/releases/071906jagsi.html 

72. Jaggar, Feminist Politics and Human Nature, p. 315. 

73. Ibid. 

74. Ibid., p. 316. 

75. Ibid., p. 317. 

76. Iris Marion Young, “Beyond the Unhappy Marriage: A Critique of the Dual 
Systems Theory,” in Women and Revolution, ed. Lydia Sargent (Boston: South End 
Press, 1981), p. 58 (emphasis in original). 

77. Heidi Hartmann, “The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: Towards 
a More Progressive Union,” in Women atid Revolution, ed. Lydia Sargent (Boston: 
South End Press, 1981), p. 428. 

78. Ibid., pp. 428-431. 

79. Sylvia Walby, “Policy Developments for Workplace Gender Equity in a 
Global Era: The Importance of the EU in the UK,” Review of Policy Research 20, no. 
1 (spring 2003): 45. 

80. Ibid., p. 53. 

8 1 . Shawn Meghan Burn, Women Across Cultures: A Global Perspective (Mountain 
View, Calif.: Mayfield Publishing, 2000), p. 100. 

82. Nancy Holmstrom, ed., introduction to The Socialist Feminist Project: A 
Contemporary Reader in Theory and Politics (New York: Monthly Review Press, 
2003), p. 3. 

83. Burn, Women Across Cultures, p. 103. 

84. Ibid. 

85. Molly Hennessy-Fiske, “Gender Pay Gap Narrows — for Unexpected Reasons.” 
Los Angeles Times, December 3, 2006, A23. 

86. Ibid. 

87. For example, a U.S. Census Bureau study found that the occupations that are 
most segregated by gender include heavy vehicle and mobile equipment service tech- 
nicians and mechanics (99% men); brickmasons, blockmasons, and stonemasons 
(98.9% men); bus and truck mechanics and diesel engine specialists (98.8% men); 
preschool and kindergarten teachers (97.8% women); dental hygienists (97.7% 
women); and secretaries and administrative assistants (96.5% women) (G. Scott 
Thomas, “Where the Men, and Women, Work,” American City Business Jotirnals 
(April 19, 2004), available at www.bizjournals.com/edit_special/12.html. 

88. See U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Median Weekly 
Earnings of Full-Time Wage and Salary Workers by Detailed Occupation and Sex” 
(January 2006), available at ftp://ftp.bls.gov/pub/special.requests/lf/aat39.txt. 

89. Valerie Bryson, Feminist Debates: Issues of Theory and Political Practice (New 
York: New York University, 1999), p. 137. 



310 Notes to Chapter Three 


90. See U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Median Weekly 
Earnings.” 

91. Ibid. 

92. Ibid. 

93. A January 2006 report found that there are almost 2.2 million men in the 
computer and mathematical occupations, compared with 756,000 women. Like- 
wise, there are 2.2 million men versus 364,000 women in the architecture and engi- 
neering occupations (ibid.). 

94. See, for example, Katherine Bowers, “Ruling OKs Class Action Suit Against 
Wal-Mart,” WWD: Womens Wear Daily 193, no. 29 (February 7, 2007): 39. 

95. For example, a 2006 study of U.S. law firms showed that of all lawyer types 
(partners, associates, counsel, staff attorneys, and senior attorneys), the total percent- 
age of employees who worked part-time was 1.7% for men and 76.4% for women. 
See “Part-Time Help Firms Hold on to Women Lawyers,” Law Office Management & 
Administration Report 7, no. 5 (May 2007): 3. A 2006 Bureau of Labor Statistics 
report showed that there were 12.6 million male part-time employees compared with 
19.8 million female part-time employees. See U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of 
Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, “Household Data Annual Averages” 
(2006), available at www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat23.pdf. 

96. A provocative recent article that suggests that women do not “choose” to leave 
the paid workforce in droves, but rather are ambivalent at best about this decision or 
necessity, is E. J. Graff, “The Opt-Out Myth,” Columbia Journalism Review 
(March-April 2007), available at www.cjr.org/issues/2007/2/Graff.asp. 

97. See, for example, L. M. Sixel, “EEOC Alleges Unequal Pay for Same Work,” 
Houston Chronicle, August 23, 2005, p. 94. 

98. Equal Pay Act of 1963 (Pub. L. 88-93) (EPA), as amended, as it appears in 
volume 29 of the United States Code, at section 206(d). 

99. Amy Joyce, “Unusual Job Titles a Sign of the Times,” Merced ( Calif.) Sun-Star, 
December 23, 2006, p. 1. 

100. Roslyn L. Feldberg, “Comparable Worth: Toward Theory and Practice in the 
United States,” Signs: Journal of Women in Cidture and Society 10, no. 2 (winter 
1984): 311-313. 

101. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Median Weekly 
Earnings.” 

102. Helen Remick, “Major Issues in A Priori Applications,” in Comparable Worth 
and Wage Discrimination: Technical Possibilities and Political Realities, ed. Helen 
Remick (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1984), p. 102. 

103. Jake Lamar, “A Worthy but Knotty Question,” Time, February 6, 1984, p. 30. 

104. Teresa Amott and Julie Matthaei, “Comparable Worth, Incomparable Pay,” 
Radical America 18, no. 5 (September-October 1984): 25. 

105. West Coast Poverty Center, “Poor Families with Children, 2005,” chart 
in “Poverty and the American Family,” Web page of West Coast Poverty Center, 



Notes to Chapter Four 311 


University of Washington, Seattle, available at http://wcpc.washington.edu/ 
basics/family.shtml. 

106. Amott and Matthaei, “Comparable Worth, Incomparable Pay,” 25. 

107. The World Bank Group, “Globalization” Web page, available at www. world 
bank.org/ globalization+globalization&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=3&gl=us. 

108. Burn, Women Across Cultures: A Global Perspective, p. 120. 

109. Ibid. 

110. Ibid. 

111. Juliet Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Feminism (New York: Vintage Books, 
1974), p. 412 (see also Mitchell, Womans Estate, pp. 100-101). 

112. Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Feminism, p. 416. 

113. Although Mitchell’s analysis is dated, women still have not come as long a 
way as they should have by now. 

1 14. Jackson, “Marxism and Feminism,” p. 33. 

115. Ibid., p. 33. 


Chapter Four 

1 . Sigmund Freud, Sexuality atid the Psychology of Love (New York: Collier Books, 
1968). 

2. Sigmund Freud, “Some Psychical Consequences of the Anatomical Distinc- 
tion Between the Sexes,” in Sexuality and the Psychology of Love (New York: Collier 
Books, 1968), p. 192. 

3. Ibid.,pp. 187-188. 

4. Sigmund Freud, “Femininity,” in Sigmund Freud, The Complete Lntroductory 
Lectures on Psychoanalysis, trans. and ed. James Strachey (New York: W. W. Norton, 
1966), p. 542. 

5. Ibid., pp. 593-596. 

6. Some of Freud’s arguments seem to run counter to the case for a shift in fe- 
male erotogenic zones. Freud claimed that male and female sexual organs develop 
out of the same embryonic structures and that vestiges of the male reproductive 
structures are found in the female, and vice versa. Thus, human anatomy would 
seem to be bisexual. Moreover, Freud observed that although femininity is ordinarily 
associated with passivity and masculinity with activity, this association is misleading 
because women can be active and men passive in some directions. It is more precise 
to say that although feminine persons prefer passive aims and masculine persons ac- 
tive aims, considerable activity is required to achieve any aim whatsoever. When it 
comes to a sexual aim — switching one’s erotogenic zone from the clitoris to the 
vagina, for example — it takes incredible sexual energy or activity (libido) to accom- 
plish the transition (ibid., p. 580). 

7. Ibid., p. 596. 

8. Freud, “Some Psychical Consequences,” p. 191. 



312 Notes to Chapter Four 


9. Ibid., p. 193. 

10. Freud, “The Passing of the Oedipus Complex,” in Sexuality atid the Psychology 
of Love (New York: Collier Books, 1968), p. 181. 

11. Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: Dell, 1974), pp. 93-94. 

12. Ibid., p. 119. 

13. Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex (New York: Bantam Books, 1970), 
pp. 48-49. 

14. Ibid., p. 69. 

15. Ibid., pp. 68-69. 

16. Ibid., p. 47 

17. Viola Klein, The Feminine Character (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 
1971), P . 77. 

18. Kate Millett, Sexual Politics (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970), p. 109. 

19. Ibid., p. 185. 

20. Sigmund Freud, Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria, ed. Philip Rieff (New 
York: Collier Books, 1963), p. 142. 

21. Ibid., p. 50. 

22. Alfred Adler, Understanding Human Nature (New York: Greenberg, 1927). 

23. Ibid., p. 123. 

24. Karen Horney, “The Flight from Womanhood,” in Feminine Psychology (New 
York: W. W. Norton, 1973), pp. 54-70. 

25. There has been much debate among feminists in regard to the theories of 
Karen Horney. In the past, feminists claimed she was more interested in the whole 
person’s sexual development than in woman’s sexual development. But recent analyses 
have penetrated deeper into Horney’s ideas and have shown them to have some very 
positive contributions to feminism. See Susan Rudnick Jacobsohn, “An Ambiguous 
Legacy,” Womens Review of Books 5, no. 4 (January 1988): 22. 

26. Clara Thompson, “Problems of Womanhood,” in Interpersonal Psychoanalysis: 
The Selected Papers of Clara Thompson, ed. M. P. Green (New York: Basic Books, 
1964). 

27. For a more complete discussion of Adler, Horney, and Thompson, see Juanita 
Williams, Psychology of Women: Behavior in a Biosocial Context (New York: W. W. 
Norton, 1977), pp. 65-73. 

28. Dorothy Dinnerstein, The Mermaid and the Minotaur: Sexual Arrangements 
and Human Malaise (New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1977), p. 5. 

29. Ibid., pp. 40-54. 

30. Ibid., pp. 59-66. 

31. Ibid., p. 66. 

32. Given that a man cannot enter a symbiotic relationship with a woman without 
reinvoking painful memories of his total helplessness before the infinite power of the 
mother, he will use his power, Dinnerstein theorized, to fulfill his basic needs for secu- 
rity, love, and self-esteem. This bid for omnipotence extends to control over both nature 



Notes to Chapter Four 313 


and women, two forces that must be kept in check lest their presumably uncontrollable 
powers be unleashed. In contrast to a man, a woman can safely seek symbiosis with a 
man as a means to attain the ends of security, love, and self-esteem. She can do this be- 
cause, for her, symbiosis with a man does not conjure up the specter of the omnipotent 
mother. However, the idea of being or becoming an omnipotent mother does terrify 
her, and this specter may explain woman’s discomfort with female power (ibid., p. 61). 

33. Ibid., pp. 124-134. 

34. Ibid. 

35. Nancy Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology 
of Gender (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), p. 32. 

36. Ibid., p. 107. 

37. Ibid., p. 126. 

38. Ibid., p. 200. 

39. Ibid., pp. 135, 187. 

40. Ibid., p. 218. 

4 1 . Judith Lorber, “On The Reproduction of Mothering: A Methodological Debate,” 
Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 6, no. 3 (spring 1981): 482-486. 

42. Jean Bethke Elshtain, Public Man, Private Woman (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton 
University Press, 1981), p. 288. 

43. Ibid., p. 290. 

44. Lorber, “On The Reproduction of Mothering: A Methodological Debate,” pp. 
497-500. 

45. Of course, this is a traditional caricature. Films and television series currently 
celebrate a new kind of father who initially has a difficult time taking care of his infant 
or child but soon becomes better at the job than his wife or lover. 

46. Critics of Chodorow who did not share Rossi’s biological concerns argued that 
although dual parenting is an improvement over women’s monopoly on mothering, 
“parenting . . . not just by biological parents but by communities of interested 
adults” is to be preferred to dual parenting. These critics insist although men and 
women have much to gain by engaging equally in parenting, everyone — particularly 
children — will be better off if human beings stop viewing children as the possessions 
and responsibilities of their biological parents and start viewing them instead as 
people for whom society as a whole is responsible. Lorber, “On The Reproduction of 
Mothering 486. 

47. Janice Raymond, “Female Friendship: Contra Chodorow and Dinnerstein,” 
Hypatia 1, no. 2 (fall 1986): 44-45. 

48. Ibid., p. 37. 

49. Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” in The 
Signs Reader: Women, Gender, and Scholarship, ed. E. Abel and E. K. Abel (Chicago: 
University of Chicago Press, 1983), p. 182. 

50. Juliet Mitchell, Womens Estate (New York: Pantheon Books, 1971), pp. 
164-165. 



314 Notes to Chapter Four 


51. Ibid. 

52. Ibid., p. 170. 

53. Juliet Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Feminism (New York: Vintage Books, 
1974), p. 370. 

54. Ibid., p. 373. 

55. Ibid., p. 375. 

56. Sigmund Freud, “Totem and Taboo,” in The Standard Edition of the Complete 
Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. and ed. James Strachey (New York: W. 
W. Norton, 1966), p. 144. 

57. Jacques Lacan, The Language of the Ye^fyBaltimore: Johns Hopkins University 
Press, 1968), p. 271. 

58. Mitchell, Psychoanalysis and Fetninism, p. 415. 

59. Sherry B. Ortner, “Oedipal Father, Mother’s Brother, and the Penis: A Review 
of Juliet Mitchell’s Psychoanalysis atid Feminism, ” Feminist Studies 2, nos. 2-3 (1975): 

179. 

60. Ibid. 

61. Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time (New York: Fawcett Crest, 1976). 

62. Chris Weedon, Feminist Practice & Poststructuralist Theory (New York: Basil 
Blackwell, 1987), p. 50. 

63. Ibid., p. 51. 

64. Jacques Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: W. W. 
Norton, 1977), pp. 64-66. 

65. Claire Duchen, Feminism in France: From May ’68 to Mitterrand (London: 
Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986), p. 78. 

66. Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection, p. 2. 

67. According to Lacan, the original mother-child unity is in some way a metaphor 
for truth — for an isomorphic relationship between word and object. Ideally, both 
mother and child, and word and object, would remain united, but society will not 
stand for such unity. As a result of the castration complex brought on by the arrival of 
the father, who represents social power symbolized by the phallus, not only mother 
and child but also word and object must be split. 

68. Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection, pp. 1-7. 

69. Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, trans. Catherine Porter (Ithaca, 
N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1985), p. 28. 

70. According to Claire Duchen, Irigaray believed “that before a ‘feminine femi- 
nine,’ a non-phallic feminine, can even be thought, women need to examine the male 
philosophical and psychoanalytical texts which have contributed to the construction 
of the ‘masculine feminine,’ the phallic feminine, in order to locate and identify it” 
(Duchen, Feminism in France, pp. 87-88). 

71. Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, p. 32. 

72. Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory (New York: 
Methuen, 1985), p. 132. 



Notes to Chapter Five 315 


73. Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, p. 74. 

74. Ibid. 

75. Luce Irigaray, “Is the Subject of Science Sexed?” trans. Carol Mastrangelo 
Bove, Hypatia 2, no. 3 (fall 1987): 66. 

76. Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, p. 32. 

77. Ibid. 

78. Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics, p. 140. 

79. In an interview, Irigaray stated that there is nothing other than masculine dis- 
course. When the interviewer said, “I don’t understand what ‘masculine discourse’ 
means,” Irigaray retorted, “Of course not, since there is no other” (Irigaray, This Sex 
Which Is Not One, p. 140). 

80. Ibid., p. 29. 

8 1 . Dorothy Leland, “Lacanian Psychoanalysis and French Feminism: Toward an 
Adequate Political Psychology,” Hypatia 3, no. 3 (winter 1989): 90-99. 

82. Kelly Oliver, “Julia Kristeva’s Feminist Revolutions,” Hypatia 8, no. 3 (summer 
1993): 101. 

83. Julia Kristeva, “The Novel As Polylogue,” in Desire in Language, trans. Leon 
S. Roudiez, and ed. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, and Leon S. Roudiez (New York: 
Columbia University Press, 1990), pp. 159-209. 

84. Oliver, “Julia Kristeva’s Feminist Revolutions,” p. 98. 

85. Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror, trans. Leon Roudiez (New York: Columbia 
University Press, 1982), pp. 205-206. 

86. Julia Kristeva, from an interview with Tel Quel, in New French Feminisms, ed. 
Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivron (New York: Schocken Books, 1981), p. 
157. 

87. Oliver, “Julia Kristeva’s Feminist Revolutions,” p. 98. 

88. Ibid., pp. 98-99. 

89. Leland, “Lacanian Psychoanalysis and French Feminism,” p. 93. 

90. Ibid., p. 94. 

91. Ibid. 

92. Cited in ibid., p. 95. 

93. Ibid. 

94. Ibid. 

95. Ibid. 

96. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New 
York: Routledge, 1990). 


Chapter Five 

1 . This list of psychological traits is found in Mary Vetterling-Braggin, ed., “ Feminin- 
ity, ” “Masculinity, ’’and “Androgyny” (Totcwn, N.J.: Litdefield, Adams, 1982), pp. 5-6. 

2. Ibid. 



316 Notes to Chapter Five 


3. Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University 
Press, 1982). 

4. Gilligan, In a Different Voice, pp. 2-23. 

5. Lawrence Kohlberg, “From Is to Ought: How to Commit the Naturalistic Fal- 
lacy and Get Away with It in the Study of Moral Development,” in Cognitive Develop- 
ment and Epistemology, ed. Theodore Mischel (New York: Academic Press, 1971), pp. 
164-165. 

6. Gilligan, In a Different Voice, pp. 74-75. 

7. Ibid., p. 76. 

8. Ibid., p. 77. 

9. Ibid. 

10. Ibid., p. 81. 

11. Carol Gilligan, “Adolescent Development Reconsidered,” in Mapping the 
Moral Domain, ed. Carol Gilligan, Janie Victoria Ward, and Jill McLean Taylor 
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988), p. xxii. 

12. Nel Noddings, Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education 
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), p. 3. 

13. Ibid., p. 96. 

14. Ibid., pp. 3-4. 

15. Ibid., p. 83. 

16. Ibid., p. 5. 

17. Ibid., p. 79. 

18. Ibid., p. 80. 

19. Ibid., p. 83. 

20. Nel Noddings, Women and Evil (Berkeley: University of California Press, 
1989), p. 91. 

21. Ibid., p. 96. 

22. Ibid., pp. 167-168. 

23. Ibid., p. 179. 

24. Ibid., p. 181. 

25. Ibid., p. 182. 

26. Ibid., p. 206. 

27. Ibid., p. 211. 

28. Ibid., p. 213. 

29. Ibid., pp. 221-222. 

30. Ibid., p. 222. 

31. Fiona Robinson, Globalizing Care: Ethics, Feminist Theory and International 
Relations (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1999), pp. 15-20. 

32. Susan Hekman, Moral Voices, Moral Selves: Carol Gilligan and Feminist Moral 
Theory (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995), p. 1. 

33. Carol Stack, “The Culture of Gender: Women and Men of Color,” Signs: 
Journal ofWomen in Culture and Society 1 1, no. 2 (winter 1986): 322-323. 



Notes to Chapter Five 317 


34. Sandra L. Bartky, Femininity and Domination (New York: Routledge, 1990), 
p. 105. 

35. Ibid., p. 104. 

36. Ibid., p. 109. 

37. Ibid., p. 113. 

38. Ibid., p. 118. 

39. Bill Puka, “The Liberation of Caring: A Different Voice for Gilligan’s ‘Different 
Voice,’” Hypatia 5, no. 1 (spring 1990): 59 and 60. 

40. Ibid. 

41. Ibid. 

42. Ibid., p. 62. 

43. Quoted in Robinson, Globalizing Care, p. 19. 

44. Brian Barry, Justice As Impartiality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 
pp. 252-256. 

45. A related debate emphasizes that Gilligan’s readers are frequendy left with the im- 
pression that a female ethics of care is better than a male ethics of justice. Many radical- 
cultural feminists would gladly applaud Gilligan were she indeed arguing women’s 
moral values are not only different from men’s but also better. But Gilligan insisted she 
was claiming only a difference, not a superiority. Her aim, she stressed, was to ensure 
that woman’s moral voice be taken as seriously as man’s. But if Gilligan was not making 
any superiority claims, then her book may not be normative enough. Critics wonder 
which is it better to be: just or caring? Should we be like Abraham, who was willing to 
sacrifice his beloved son Isaac to fulfill God’s will? Or should we be like the mother 
whose baby King Solomon threatened to cut in half? (We will recall that in this biblical 
story, two women claim to be the same child’s mother. When King Solomon threatened 
to divide the baby in two, he prompted the true mother to forsake her claim in order to 
secure her child’s survival.) Gilligan resisted answering these questions, although she cer- 
tainly led many of her readers to view Abraham as a religious fanatic and to view the real 
mother in the Solomon story as a person who has her values properly ordered. 

As Gilligan saw it, the question of which is better — an ethics of care or an ethics 
of justice — is an apples-and-oranges question. Both an ethics of care and an ethics of 
justice are good. But to insist one kind of morality is the better is to manifest a 
nearly pathological need for a unitary, absolute, and universal moral standard that 
can erase our very real moral tensions as with a magic wand. If we are able to achieve 
moral maturity, Gilligan implied, we must be willing to vacillate between an ethics 
of care and an ethics of justice. But even if her critics were willing to concede ethical 
vacillation is morally acceptable, they were not willing to let Gilligan simply describe 
an ethics of care on the one hand and an ethics of justice on the other without 
attempting to translate between these two systems. Her critics believe that such at- 
tempts at translation would do much to reinforce Gilligan’s later claim that the 
ethics of care and of justice are ultimately compatible. For more details, see Gilligan, 
In a Different Voice, pp. 151-174. 



318 Notes to Chapter Five 


46. George Sher, “Other Voices, Other Rooms? Women’s Psychology and Moral 
Theory,” in Women and Moral Theory, ed. Eva Feder Kittay and Diana T. Meyers 
(Totowa, N.J.: Roman & Littlefield, 1987), p. 188. 

47. Marilyn Friedman, “Beyond Caring: The De-Moralization of Gender,” in Sci- 
ence, Morality and Feminist Theory, ed. Marsha Hanen and Kai Nielsen (Calgary: 
University of Calgary Press, 1987), p. 100. 

48. Friedman, “Beyond Caring,” lOlf. 

49. Gilligan, In a Different Voice, p. 174. 

50. Gilligan, “Moral Orientation and Moral Development,” in Women and Moral 
Theory, ed. Eva Feder Kittay and Diana T. Meyers (Totowa, N.J.: Roman & Littlefield, 
1987), pp. 25-26. 

51. Sarah Lucia Hoagland, “Some Thoughts About Caring in Feminist Ethics, 
ed. Claudia Card (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1991), p. 251. 

52. Noddings, Caring, p. 73. 

53. Ibid., p. 102. 

54. Hoagland, “Some Thoughts About Caring p. 256. 

55. Ibid., p. 257. 

56. Ibid., p. 258. 

57. Nel Noddings, “A Response,” Hypatia 5, no. 6 (spring 1990): p. 125. 

58. Ibid. 

59. Sara Ruddick, “Maternal Thinking,” in Mothering: Essays in Feminist Theory, 
ed. Joyce Trebilcot (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Allanheld, 1984), p. 214. 

60. Ibid. 

61. Ibid., p. 215. 

62. Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre 
Dame Press, 1981), p. 177. 

63. Ibid., p. 178. 

64. Ibid., p. 181. 

65. Ibid. 

66. Adrienne Rich, OfWoman Born (New York: W. W. Norton, 1979), p. 174. 

67. Sara Ruddick, Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace (Boston: Beacon 
Press, 1989), p. 17. 

68. Ibid., p. 19. 

69. Ibid., p. 67. 

70. Ibid., p. 71. 

71. Ibid., p. 73. 

72. Ibid., p. 74. 

73. Ibid. 

74. Ibid., p. 98. 

75. Ibid., p. 118. 

76. Ibid., p. 123. 

77. Ibid., p. 221. 



Notes to Chapter Five 319 


78. Robinson, Globalizing Care, p. 20. 

79. Ruddick, Maternal Thinking, pp. 222-234. 

80. Ibid. 

8 1 . Virginia Held, The Ethics of Care (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 64. 

82. Virginia Held, “Feminism and Moral Theory,” in Women and Moral Theory, 
ed. Eva Feder Kittay and Diana Meyers (Savage, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1987), 
pp. 112-113. 

83. Held, The Ethics of Care, p. 113. 

84. Held, “Feminism and Moral Theory,” pp. 116—1 17. 

85. Held, The Ethics of Care, pp. 134-135. 

86. Virginia Held, “The Obligations of Mothers and Fathers,” in Mothering: Essays in 
Feminist Theory, ed. Joyce Trebilcot (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Allanheld, 1984), p. 7. 

87. Ibid., p. 11. 

88. Ibid., p. 18. 

89. Held, “Feminism and Moral Theory,” p. 121. 

90. Ibid., p. 124. 

91. Ibid., p. 125. 

92. Ibid., p. 126. 

93. Held, The Ethics of Care, p. 17. 

94. Ibid., pp. 53 and 54. 

95. Eva Feder Kittay, Love’s Labor: Essays on Women, Equality and Dependency 
(New York: Routledge, 1999), p. 19. 

96. Ibid., p. 158. 

97. Ibid., p. 51. 

98. Robert Goodin, Protecting the Vtdnerable (Chicago: University of Chicago 
Press, 1985). 

99. Kittay, Love’s Labor, p. 55. 

100. Ibid. 

101. Ibid., p. 59. 

102. Ibid., p. 25. 

103. Ibid., p. 68. 

104. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 
1971), pp. 60-65. 

105. Kittay, Love’s Labor, p. 113. 

106. Carol Gilligan, Janie Victoria Ward, and Jill McLean Taylor, eds., Mapping 
the Moral Domain (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988), p. 291. 

107. Nel Noddings, “Global Citizenship: Promises and Problems,” in Educating 
Citizens for Global Awareness, ed. Nel Noddings (New York: Teachers College Press, 
2005), p. 17. 

108. Peggy McIntosh, “Gender Perspectives on Educating for Global Citizenship,” 
in Educating Citizens for Global Awareness, ed. Nel Noddings (New York: Teachers 
College Press, 2005), p. 26. 



320 Notes to Chapter Six 


109. Noddings, “Global Citizenship,” p. 17. 

110. Virginia Held, “Care and the Extension of Markets,” Hypatia, 17, no. 2 
(spring 2002): 32. 

111. Ibid. 

112. Kittay, Love’s Labor. 

1 13. Ibid. 

114. Eyal Press, “Do Workers Have a Fundamental Right to Care for Their Fami- 
lies?” Sunday New York Times Magazine, July 29, 2007, 38. 

115. Ibid. 

1 16. Ibid., p. 39. 

117. Ibid. 

118. Fiona Robinson, Globalizing Care, p. 146. 

119. Ibid., p. 147. 


Chapter Six 

1. Mary Dietz, “Current Controversies in Feminist Theory,” Annual Review of 
Political Science, 6 (2003): 408-409. 

2. Nancy Fraser, Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the “Postsocialist” Condi- 
tion (New York: Routledge, 1997). 

3. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., The Disuniting of America (Knoxville, Tenn.: Whit- 
tle Books, 1990), p. 2. 

4. Jung Young Lee, Marginality: The Key to Midticultural Theology (Minneapolis: 
Fortress Press, 1995), p. 35. Lee is citing Israel Zangwill, The Melting Pot: A Drama 
in Four Acts. 

5. Schlesinger, Disuniting of America, p. 2. 

6. See, for example, Angela Y. Davis, “Gender, Class, and Multiculturalism: 
Rethinking ‘Race’ Politics,” in Mapping Multiculturalism, ed. Avery R. Gorden 
and Christopher Newfield (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 
pp. 40-48. 

7. Blaine J. Fowers and Frank C. Richardson, “Why Is Multiculturalism Good?” 
American Psychologist 51, no. 6 (June 1996): 609. 

8. Joseph Raz, “Multiculturalism: A Liberal Perspective,” Dissent (winter 1994): 
74. 

9. Ibid., p. 78. 

10. Ibid., p. 77. 

1 1 . “Second-wave feminism” is a term used to refer to the schools of feminist 
thought that emerged in the 1970s. They tended to focus on the ways in which 
women are the same. 

12. Elizabeth V. Spelman, Inessential Woman: Problems of Exclusion in Feminist 
Thought (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998), pp. 11-12. 

13. Ibid., p. 12. 



Notes to Chapter Six 32 1 


14. Ibid., p. 13. 

15. Deborah King, “Multiple Jeopardy: The Context of a Black Feminist Ideology,” 
in Feminist Frameworks, 3rd ed., ed. Alison M. Jaggar and Paula S. Rothenberg (New 
York: McGraw-Hill, 1993), p. 220. 

16. bell hooks, Yearning: Race, Gender and Cultural Politics (Boston: South End 
Press, 1990), p. 59. 

17. bell hooks, “Naked Without Shame: A Counter-hegemonic Body Politic,” in 
Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age, ed. Ella Shohat 
(Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998), p. 69. 

18. Audre Lorde, “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” in 
Race, Class, and Gender, 2nd ed., ed. Margaret L. Andersen and Patricia Hill Collins 
(Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1995), pp. 532 and 539. 

19. Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals (San Francisco: Spinster/Aunt Lute, 1980). 

20. Lorde, “Age, Race, Class, and Sex,” p. 539. 

21. Ibid. 

22. Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and 
the Politics of Empowerment (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990), p. 6. 

23. Ibid., p. 7. 

24. Ibid., p. 67. 

25. Ella Shohat, ed., introduction to Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a 
Transitional Age (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998), pp. 1-13. 

26. Jonna Lian Pearson, “Multicultural Feminism and Sisterhood Among 
Women of Color in Social Change Dialogue,” Floivard Journal of Communications 
18 (2007): 88. 

27. Maria Lugones and Elizabeth Spelman, “Have We Got a Theory for You! 
Feminist Theory, Cultural Imperialism, and the Demand for the Woman’s Voice,” in 
Feminist Philosophies, ed. Janet A. Kourany, James P. Sterba, and Rosemarie Tong 
(Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1992), p. 388. 

28. Audre Lorde, “Age, Race, Class, and Sex,” pp. 114-115. 

29. Lugones and Spelman, “Have We Got a Theory for You!” p. 391. 

30. Adrian Piper, “Passing for White, Passing for Black,” in Talking Visions: Multi- 
cultural Fetninism in a Transnational Age, ed. Ella Shohat (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT 
Press, 1998), p. 89. 

31. Naomi Zack, “Mixed Black and White Race and Public Policy,” Hypatia 10, 
no. 1 (winter 1995): 123—124. 

32. Shohat, Talking Visions, pp. 7-8. 

33. Linda Martin Alcoff, Visible Identities: Race, Gender, and the Self (Oxford-. Oxford 
University Press, 2006), p. 269. 

34. Ibid. 

35. Ibid. 

36. Ibid., p. 179. 

37. Ibid., pp. 188-189. 



322 Notes to Chapter Six 


38. U.S. Department of Commerce, “United States Census 2000,” Individual 
Census Report (December 31, 2000). 

39. Shohat, Talking Visions, p. 7. 

40. Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence (1980),” 
in Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979—1985, (New York: W. W. Norton, 
1986). Quotations in this paragraph are from pp. 27 and 51. 

41. Bonnie Poitras Tucker, “The ADA and Deaf Culture: Contrasting Precepts, 
Conflicting Results,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 
551 (January 1997): 24-36. 

42. Pearson, “Multicultural Feminism and Sisterhood,” 91. 

43. Shohat, Talking Visions, p. 7. 

44. Ibid., p. 6. 

45. Ibid., p. 2. 

46. Charlotte Bunch, “Prospects for Global Feminism,” in Feminist Frameworks, 
3rd ed., ed. Alison M. Jaggar and Paula S. Rothenberg (New York: McGraw-Hill, 
1993), p. 249. 

47. Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (New York: Harcourt Brace 
Jovanovich, 1983), p. xi. 

48. Bunch, “Prospects for Global Feminism,” p. 250. 

49. Quoted in Nellie Wong, “Socialist Feminism: Our Bridge to Freedom,” in Third 
World Women and the Politics ofFetninism, ed. Chandra Talpads Mohanty, Ann Russo, 
and Lourde Torres (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1991), p. 293. 

50. Bunch, “Prospects for Global Feminism,” p. 251. 

51. Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider (Trumansburg, N.Y.: Crossing Press, 1984), p. 

111 . 

52. Angela Gillian, “Women’s Equality and National Liberation,” in Third World 
Women atid the Politics of Feminism, ed. Chandra Talpads Mohanty, Ann Russo, and 
Lourde Torres (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1991), p. 229. 

53. Ibid. 

54. Ibid. 

55. Shawn Meghan Burn, Women Across Cultures: A Global Perspective (Mountain 
View, Calif.: Mayfield Publishing, 2000), p. 73. 

56. Noerni Ehrenfeld Lenkiewicz, “Women’s Control over Their Bodies,” in 
Women in the Third World: An Encyclopedia of Contemporary Issues, ed. Nelly P. 
Stromquist (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), pp. 197-199. 

57. Burn, Women Across Cultures, p. 53. 

58. Adele Clark, “Subtle Forms of Sterilization Abuse: A Reproductive Rights 
Analysis,” in Test-Tube Women: What Future for Motherhood? ed. Rita Arditti, Renate 
Duelli Klein, and Shelley Minden (London: Pandora Press, 1985), p. 198. 

59. Helen Rodriguez-Treas, “Sterilization Abuse,” in Biological Woman: The Con- 
venient Myth, ed. Ruth Hubbard, Mary Sue Henifin, and Barbara Fried (Cambridge, 
Mass.: Schenkman, 1982), p. 150. 



Notes to Chapter Six 323 


60. “Contraceptive Raises Ethical Concerns,” Medical Ethics Advisor 9 , no. 2 (Feb- 
ruary 1991): 17. 

61. David P. Warwick, “Ethics and Population Control in Developing Coun- 
tries,” Hastings Center Report A, no. 3 (June 1974): 3. 

62. Barbara Hartmann, Reproductive Rights and Wrongs: The Global Politics of Pop- 
ulation Control (Boston: South End Press, 1995). 

63. Burn, Women Across Cultures, p. 69. 

64. David A. Grimes, “Unsafe Abortion: The Silent Scourge,” British Medical 
Bulletin 67 (2003): 99-113. 

65. Friday E. Okonofua, “Abortion and Maternal Mortality in the Developing 
World,” Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Catiada 28, no. 1 1 (November 2006): 
974-979. 

66. Patricia H. David et ah, “Women’s Reproductive Health Needs in Russia: 
What Can We Learn from an Intervention to Improve Post-Abortion Care?” Health 
Policy and Planning 22, no. 2 (February 2007): 83-94. 

67. Associated Press, “World Briefing, Asia: China — Retreat on Criminalizing 
Gender Abortions,” New York Times, June 27, 2006, p. A6. 

68. Judith Banister, “Shortage of Girls in China Today: Causes, Consequences, 
International Comparisons, and Solutions,” Journal of Population Research (May 
2004), available at www.prb.org/presentations/ShortageofGirlsinChina.ppt. 

69. Associated Press, “World Briefing, Asia,” A6. 

70. Sabu M. George, “Millions of Missing Girls: From Fetal Sexing to High Tech- 
nology Sex Selection in India,” Prenatal Diagnosis 26, no. 7 (July 2006): 604-609. 

71. Swapan Seth, “Sex Selective Feticide in India,” Journal of Assisted Reproduction 
and Genetics 24, no. 5 (May 2007): 153-154. 

72. Maria Mies, “New Reproductive Technologies: Sexist and Racist Implica- 
tions,” in Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, Ecofeminism (London: Zed, 1993), p. 
194. 

73. Robin Morgan, Sisterhood Is Global (Garden City, N.Y.: Crossing Press, 
1984), p. 5. 

74. Ibid. 

75. Ibid., p. 765. 

76. Arlie Russell Hochschild, “Love and Gold,” in Global Economy, ed. Arlie Rus- 
sell Hochschild (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2002). 

77. Rosemary Radford Ruether, Integrating Ecofeminism, Globalization, and World 
Religions (Lanham, Md.: Roman & Littlefield, 2005), p. 146. 

78. Joann Lim, “Sweatshops Are Us,” in Rethinking Globalization: Teaching for 
Justice in an Unjust World, ed. Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson (Milwaukee: Rethink- 
ing Schools Press, 2002), pp. 158-159. 

79. A. K. Nauman and M. Hutchison, “The Integration of Women into the 
Mexican Labor Force since NAFTA,” American Behavioral Scientist 40 (1997): 
950-956. 



324 Notes to Chapter Six 


80. Fauzia Erfan Ahmed, “The Rise of the Bangladesh Garment Industry: Globaliza- 
tion, Women Workers, and Voice,” NWSA Journal 16, no. 2 (summer 2002): 34-45. 

81. Ruether, Integrating Ecofeminism, Globalization, and World Religions, p. 146. 

82. Morgan, Sisterhood Is Global, p. 16. 

83. Ibid. 

84. Alison Jaggar, “A Feminist Critique of the Alleged Southern Debt,” Hypatia 
17, no. 4 (fall 2002): 119-121. 

85. Ruether, Integrating Ecofeminism, Globalization, and World Religions, p. 4. 

86. Jaggar, “A Feminist Critique,” 2002. 

87. Maria Mies, “The Myths of Catching-Up Development,” in Ecofeminism, ed. 
Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva (London: Zed, 1993), p. 58. 

88. Ibid., p. 60. 

89. Ibid., p. 59. 

90. Ibid., p. 66. 

91. Ibid., p. 67. 

92. Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, “The Myths of Catching-up Development,” 
in Ecofeminism pp. 10-1 1. 

93. Ibid., p. 1 1. 

94. Ibid., pp. 1 1-12. 

95. Uma Narayan, Dislocating Cultures: Identities, Traditions, and Third-World 
Feminisms (New York: Routledge, 1997), p. 127. 

96. Ibid., p. 146. 

97. Nancy Holmstrom, “Human Nature,” in A Companion to Feminist Philosophy, ed. 
Alison M. Jaggar and Iris Marion Young (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1998), p. 288. 

98. Susan Moller Okin, “Inequalities Between Sexes in Different Cultural Con- 
texts,” in Women, Culture, and Development, ed. Martha Nussbaum and Jonathan 
Glover (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), p. 294. 

99. Susan Moller Okin, “Feminism, Women’s Human Rights, and Cultural Dif- 
ferences,” Hypatia 13, no. 2 (1998): 42. 

100. For the first two documents, see Susan Moller Okin, “Recognizing Women’s 
Rights As Human Rights,” APA Newsletters 97, no. 2 (spring 1998). For the last doc- 
ument, see United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against 
Women, 85th Plenary Meeting, December 20, 1993, A/RES/48/ 104, available at 
www.un.org/documents/ga/res/48/a48rl04.htm. 

101. Spike V. Peterson and Laura Parisi, “Are Women Human? It’s Not an Academic 
Question,” in Human Rights Fifty Years On: A Radical Reappraisal, ed. Tony Evans 
(Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1998), pp. 142-153. 

102. Seth Faison, “China Turns the Tables, Faulting U.S. on Rights,” New York 
Times, March 5, 1997, p. A8. 

103. Anne Phillips, “Multiculturalism, Universalism, and the Claims of Democracy,” 
in Gender, Justice, Development, and Rights, ed. Maxine Molyneux and Shahra Razavi 
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 125. 



Notes to Chapter Seven 325 


104. Chila Bulbeck, Re-Orienting Western Feminisms: Womens Diversity in a Post- 
colonial World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 5. 

105. Quoted in Maxine Molyneux and Shahra Razavi, eds., introduction to Gender 
Justice, Development and Rights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 13. 

106. Martha Nussbaum, “Women’s Capabilities and Social Justice,” in Gender 
Justice, Development and Rights, ed. Maxine Molyneux and Shahra Razavi (Oxford: 
Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 60-62. 

107. Daniel Engster, “Rethinking Care Theory: The Practice of Caring and the 
Obligation to Care,” Hypatia 20, no. 3 (summer 2005): 52. 

108. Martha Nussbaum, Sex and Social Justice (New York: Oxford University 
Press, 1999). 

109. Vivienne Jabri, “Feminist Ethics and Hegemonic Global Politics,” Alternatives 
29 (2004): 275. 

110. Morgan, Sisterhood Is Global, p. 36. 

111. Spelman, Inessential Woman, p. 178. 

112. Ibid., pp. 178-179. 

113. Ibid., p. 181. 

114. Lugones and Spelman, “Have We Got a Theory for You!” pp. 388 and 389. 

115. bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (Boston: South End 
Press, 1984), p. 404. 

1 16. Ibid. 

1 17. Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider, p. 1 13. 

118. Iris Marion Young, “The Ideal of Community and the Politics of Difference,” 
in Feminism/Postmodernism, ed. Linda J. Nicholson (New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 
308. 

119. Nancie Caraway, Segregated Sisterhood: Racism and the Politics of American 
Feminism (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991). 

120. Young, “The Ideal of Community and the Politics of Difference,” p. 311. 

121. Caraway, Segregated Sisterhood, p. 206. 

122. Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, in The Works of Aristotle Translated into English, 
ed. W. D. Ross (London: Oxford University Press, 1963). 

Chapter Seven 

1. Karen J. Warren, ed., “The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism,” in 
Ecological Feminist Philosophies (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), p. 20. 

2. Karen J. Warren, “Feminism and the Environment: An Overview of the Is- 
sues,” APA Neivsletter on Feminism and Philosophy 90, no. 3 (fall 1991): 110-111. 

3. The terms “cultural ecofeminists” and “nature ecofeminists” are from Karen J. 
Warren, “Feminism and Ecology: Making Connections,” in Readings in Ecology and 
Feminist Theology, ed. Mary Heather MacKinnon and Marie McIntyre (Kansas City, 
Kans.: Sheed and Ward, 1995), p. 114. The terms “psychobiologistic ecofeminists” 



326 Notes to Chapter Seven 


and “social-constructionist ecofeminist” are from Janet Biehl, Rethinking Feminist 
Politics (Boston: South End Press, 1991), pp. 11 and 17. 

4. Rosemary Radford Ruether, New Woman/New Earth: Sexist Ideologies and Hu- 
man Liberation (New York: Seabury Press, 1975), p. 204. 

5. Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962), pp. 16-23. 

6. Robert Alter, trans. and comm., Genesis (New York: W. W. Norton, 1996). 

7. Aldo Leopold, “The Land Ethic,” in Sand Comity Almanac (New York: Ox- 
ford University Press, 1987). 

8. See John Hospers, Understanding the Arts (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice- 
Hall, 1982). 

9. Arne Naess, “The Deep Ecological Movement: Some Philosophical Aspects,” 
Philosophical Inquiry 8 (1986): 10-13. 

10. Peter S. Wenz, “Ecology and Morality,” in Ethics and Animals, ed. Harlan B. 
Miller and William H. Williams (Clifton, N.J.: Humana Press, 1983), pp. 185-191. 

11. The optimum human population would be about 500 million, according to 
James Lovelock; 100 million, according to Arne Naess. See Luc Ferry, The New Eco- 
logical Order, trans. Carol Volk (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), p. 75. 

12. William Aiken, “Non-Anthropocentric Ethical Challenges,” in Earthbound: 
New Introductory Essays in Environmental Ethics, ed. Tom Regan (New York: Random 
House, 1984), p. 269. 

13. See George Sessions, “The Deep Ecology Movement: A Review,” Environmental 
Review 9 (1987): 115. 

14. Karen J. Warren, “Feminism and Ecology,” Environmental Revieiv 9, no. 1 
(spring 1987): 3-20. 

15. Ariel Kay Salleh, “Deeper Than Deep Ecology: The Ecofeminist Connection,” 
Environmental Ethics 6, no. 1 (1984): 339. 

16. Ibid. 

17. Ferry, The New Ecological Order, p. 118. 

18. Ynestra King, “The Ecology of Feminism and the Feminism of Ecology,” in 
Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism, ed. Judith Plant (Philadelphia: New 
Society Publishers, 1989), pp. 22-23. 

19. Ibid., p. 23. 

20. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, trans. and ed. H. M. Parshley (New 
York: Vintage Books, 1952), pp. 19-29. 

21. Ibid., p. xxi. 

22. Val Plumwood, “Ecofeminism: An Overview and Discussion of Positions and 
Arguments,” Australian Journal of Philosophy 64, supplement (June 1986): 135. 

23. Sherry B. Ortner, “Is Female to Male As Nature Is to Culture?” in Readings in 
Ecology and Feminist Theory, ed. Mary Heather MacKinnon and Marie McIntyre 
(Kansas City, Kans.: Sheed and Ward, 1995), pp. 40-41 and 51. 

24. Ibid., pp. 52-53. 

25. Ibid., p. 54. 



Notes to Chapter Seven 32 7 


26. Ibid., pp. 54-55. 

27. Mary Daly, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984), p. 25. 

28. Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology (Boston: Beacon Press, 1978), pp. 63-64. 

29. Ibid., pp. 10—11 (emphasis mine). 

30. Ibid. 

31. Ibid., pp. 12-13. 

32. Ibid., p. 21. 

33. See David Maccauley, “On Women, Animals and Nature: An Interview with 
Eco-Feminist Susan Griffin,” APA Newsletter on Feminism 90, no. 3 (fall 1991): 118. 

34. Susan Griffin, Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her (New York: Harper 
& Row, 1978), p. 226. 

35. Ibid., p. 1. 

36. Ibid., pp. 83-90. 

37. Ibid., p. 67. 

38. Maccauley, “An Interview with Eco-Feminist Susan Griffin,” p. 117. 

39. Griffin, Woman and Nature, pp. 1 and 1 17-118. 

40. Susan Griffin, Pornography and Silence: Culture’s Revenge Against Nature (New 
York: Harper & Row, 1981), p. 2. 

41. Maccauley, “An Interview with Eco-Feminist Susan Griffin,” p. 117. 

42. Deena Metzger, Gloria Orenstein, Dale Colleen Hamilton, Paula Gum Alleo, 
Margot Adler, Dolores LaChapelle, A. K. Salleh, and Radha Bratt are also considered 
to be spiritual ecofeminists. 

43. Riane Eisler, “The Gaia Tradition and the Partnership Future: An Ecofem- 
inist Manifesto,” in Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism, ed. Irene 
Diamond and Gloria Feman Orenstein (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 
1990), p. 23. 

44. Starhawk, “Power, Authority, and Mystery: Ecofeminism and Earth-Based 
Spirituality,” in Reweaving the World: The Emergence of Ecofeminism, ed. Irene Dia- 
mond and Gloria Feman Orenstein (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1990), p. 86. 

45. Starhawk, “Feminist, Earth-based Spirituality and Ecofeminism,” in Healing 
the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism, ed. Judith Plant (Philadelphia: New Society 
Publishers, 1989), p. 176. 

46. Ibid., p. 177. 

47. Ibid., p. 178. 

48. Ibid. 

49. Ibid. 

50. Ibid., p. 179. 

51. Ibid., p. 180. 

52. Rosemary Radforth Reuther, Integrating Ecofeminism, Globalization and World 
Religions (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), p. 8. 

53. Starhawk, Webs ofPoiver: Notes from the Global Uprising (Gabriol Island, B.C.: 
New Society Publishers, 2002), pp. 244-245. 



328 Notes to Chapter Seven 


54. Starhawk, “A Story of Beginnings,” in Healing the Wounds: The Promise of 
Ecofeminism, Plant, ed., p. 115. 

55. Carol Christ, She Who Changes: Re-imagining the Divine in the World (New 
York: MacMillan Palgrave, 2003), p. 240. 

56. Dorothy Dinnerstein, “Survival on Earth: The Meaning of Feminism,” in 
Healing the Wounds: The Promise of Ecofeminism, ed. Judith Plant (Philadelphia: New 
Society Publishers, 1989), p. 193. 

57. Ibid. 

58. Ibid., p. 174. 

59. Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time (New York: Fawcett Crest, 1976). 

60. Ibid., p. 105. 

61. Warren, “The Power and the Promise of Ecological Feminism,” p. 178. 

62. Karen J. Warren, Ecofeminist Philosophy: A Western Perspective on What It Is 
and Why It Matters (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000), p. 97. 

63. Ibid., p. 99. 

64. Ibid., p. 100. 

65. Ibid. 

66. Ibid., p. 101. 

67. Ibid., pp. 189-190. 

68. Ibid., pp. 189-190. 

69. Alison M. Jaggar, Feminist Politics and Human Nature (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman 
& Littlefield, 1983). As readers must realize, I no longer accept Jaggar’s categories 
from which she herself has departed in recent years. 

70. Warren, “Feminism and Ecology: Making Connections,” pp. 109—111. 

71. Ibid., p. 113. 

72. Ibid., pp. 112-114. 

73. Ibid., pp. 114-115. 

74. Ibid., p. 116, quoting Alison Jaggar. 

75. Ibid., p. 118. 

76. Ibid. 

77. Maria Mies, “White Man’s Dilemma: His Search for What He Has Destroyed,” 
in Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, Ecofeminism (London: Zed, 1993), pp. 132-163. 

78. Ibid., pp. 137-138. 

79. Karen J. Warren also presented a discussion similar to Shiva’s in “Taking Em- 
pirical Data Seriously: An Ecofeminist Philosophy Perspective,” in Living with Con- 
tradictions: Controversies in Feminist Social Ethics, ed. Alison M. Jaggar (Boulder, 
Colo.: Westview Press, 1994), pp. 642-643. 

80. Vandana Shiva, “The Chipko-Women’s Concept of Freedom,” in Maria Mies 
and Vandana Shiva, Ecofeminism (London: Zed, 1993), p. 247. 

81. Maria Mies, “The Need for a New Vision: The Subsistence Perspective,” in 
Mies and Shiva, Ecofeminism, p. 319-322. 

82. Kamla Bhasin, quoted in ibid., p. 322. 

83. Biehl, Rethinking Feminist Politics, p. 14. 



Notes to Chapter Eight 329 


84. Ibid., p. 16 (quoting from Simone de Beauvoir). 

85. Ibid. 

86. Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva, Introduction to Mies and Shiva, Ecofeminism, 
p. 19. 

87. Ynestra King, “Engendering a Peaceful Planet: Ecology, Economy, and 
Ecofeminism in Contemporary Context,” Womens Studies Quarterly 23 (fall/winter 

1995): 19. 

88. Mies and Shiva, Introduction to Ecofeminism, p. 18. 

89. Ibid. 

90. Carolyn Merchant, Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World (New York: 
Routledge, 1992). 

91. Biehl, Rethinking Feminist Politics, p. 19. 

92. King, “Engendering a Peaceful Planet,” pp. 16-17. 

93. Quoted in Judith Auerbach, “The Intersection of Feminism and the Environ- 
mental Movement, or What Is Feminist About the Feminist Perspective on the Envi- 
ronment?” American Behavioral Scientist 37, no. 8 (August 1994): 1095. 

94. Editors of the International Forum on Globalization, “From Bretton Woods to 
Alternatives,” in Alternatives to Economic Globalization, ed. the International Forum 
on Globalization (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2002), pp. 228-238. 

Chapter Eight 

1 . Cited in Helene Vivienne Wenzel, “The Text as Body/Politics: An Apprecia- 
tion of Monique Wittig’s Writings in Context,” Feminist Studies 7, no. 2 (summer 
1981): 270-271. 

2. Beverly Guy-Sheftall, “Response from a ‘Second Waver’ to Kimberly 
Springer’s ‘Third Wave Black Feminism?” Signs: Journal of Women in Ctdture and So- 
ciety 27, no. 4 (2002): 1091. 

3. Leslie Heywood and Jennifer Drake, Third Wave Agenda: Being Feminist, Do- 
ing Feminism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), p. 3. 

4. Judith Butler, “Contingent Foundations: Feminism and the Question of ‘Post- 
modernism,’” in Feminists Theorize the Political, ed. Judith Butler and Joan W. Scott 
(New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 4. 

5. Ibid., p. 5. 

6. Anglo-American feminists initially limited the ranks of postmodern feminists to 
“French feminists” because so many exponents of postmodern feminism were either 
French nationals or women living in France (especially Paris). In response to this limita- 
tion, many directors of women’s studies programs in France protested that U.S. academ- 
ics have a very narrow conception of who counts as a French feminist or as a 
postmodern feminist. In a review of Claire Duchen’s book, Feminism in France: From 
May ’68 to Mitterrand (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986), Elaine Viennot 
wrote: “To taste the full flavor of these distortions, it is necessary to know that the 
French feminist movement is, in certain American universities, an object of study (I 



330 Notes to Chapter Eight 


assure you right away, you would not recognize it . . . ), and that this book has every 
possibility of being bought by every American library; it is also necessary to know that 
certain of our compatriots (J. Kristeva, J. Derrida . . . ) reign over there as masters of the 
university enclave” (Eleanor Kuykendall, trans., Etudes feministes: bidletin national 
d’information 1 [fall 1987]: 40). Whether the sentiments of this review, published by the 
Association pour les etudes feministes and the Centre lyonnais d’etudes feministes/Asso- 
ciation femmes, feminisme et recherche Rhone Alpes and brought to my attention by 
Eleanor Kuykendall, are widely shared by French academics is a question for debate. In 
any event, Viennot s criticisms are not idiosyncratic and merit a careful reading. 

7. Jane Flax, “Postmodernism and Gender Relations in Feminist Theory,” in Fem- 
inism/Postmodernism, ed. Linda Nicholson (New York: Routledge, 1990), pp. 41-42. 

8. Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University 
of Chicago Press, 1978). 

9. Toril Moi, Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory (New York: Rout- 
ledge, 1985), p. 106. 

10. Ibid. 

11. Ibid. 

12. Ann Rosalind Jones, “Writing the Body: Toward an Understanding of l-Ecriture 
Feminine Feminist Studies 7 ’, no. 1 (summer 1981): 248. 

13. Helene Cixous and Catherine Clement, “Sorties,” in The Newly Born Woman, 
trans. Betsy Wing (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), pp. 63, 65. 

14. Ibid., p. 65. 

15. Helene Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa,” in New French Feminisms, ed. 
Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtviron (New York: Schocken Books, 1981), p. 249. 

16. Ibid., p. 245. 

17. Ibid., p. 262. 

18. Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtviron, “Introduction III,” in New French 
Feminisms, ed. Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtviron (New York: Schocken 
Books, 1981), p. 36. 

19. Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa,” p. 256. 

20. Ibid., pp. 251 and 259-260. 

21. Ibid., p. 256. 

22. Ibid., pp. 259-260. 

23. Madan Sarup, Post-Structuralism and Postmodernism, 2nd ed. (Athens: University 
of Georgia Press, 1993), p. 74. 

24. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1, An Introduction, trans. 
Robert Hurley (London: Allen Lane, 1979), p. 93. 

25. Philip Barker, Michel Foucault: An Introduction (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Uni- 
versity Press, 1998), p. 27. 

26. Chris Weedon, Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory (New York: Basil 
Blackwell, 1987), p. 119. 

27. Foucault, The History of Sexuality, p. 25. 

28. Sarup, Post-Structuralism and Postmodernism, p. 74. 



Notes to Chapter Eight 33 1 


29. Barker, Michel Foucault: An Introduction, p. 32. 

30. Michel Foucault, “The Discourse on Power,” in Remarks on Marx, trans. R. 
James Goldstein and James Cascaito (New York: Semiotext(e), Columbia University, 
1991), p. 1174. 

31. Kathryn Pauly Morgan, “Women and the Knife: Cosmetic Surgery and the 
Colonization of Women’s Bodies,” Hypatia 6, no. 3 (fall 1991): 40. 

32. Ibid. 

33. Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth: Hoiv Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women 
(New York: William Morrow, 1991), pp. 13, 14, and 233. 

34. Ibid. 

35. Debra L. Gimlin, “Cosmetic Surgery: Paying for Your Beauty,” in Body Work: 
Beauty and Self-Image in American Culture, ed. Debra L. Gimlin (Berkeley: University 
of California Press, 2002), p. 95. 

36. Sandra Lee Bartky, “Foucault, Femininity, and the Modernization of Patriarchal 
Power,” in Femininity and Domination: Studies in the Phenomenology of Oppression 
(New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 81. 

37. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New 
York: Routledge, 1990), p. 8. 

38. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, trans. and ed. H. M. Parshely (New 
York: Vintage Books, 1974). 

39. Judith Butler, “Variations on Sex and Gender: Beauvoir, Wittig and Foucault,” 
in Feminism As Critique: Essays on the Politics of Gender in Late-Capitalist Societies, ed. 
Seyla Benhabib and Drucilla Cornell (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1987), p. 131. 

40. Sara Salin , Judith Butler (New York: Routledge, 2002), p. 50. 

41. J. L. Austin, How to Do Things ivith Words (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Uni- 
versity Press, 1962), p. 6. 

42. Salin, Judith Butler, p. 89. 

43. Ibid. 

44. Martha C. Nussbaum, “The Professor of Parody,” The New Republic, February 
22, 1999, p. 41. 

45. Claire Duchen, Feminism in France: From May ’68 to Mitterrand (London: 
Routledge & Regan Paul, 1986), p. 102. 

46. Nussbaum, “The Professor of Parody,” p. 41. 

47. Judith Butler, The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection (Stanford, 
Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1997). 

48. Nussbaum, “The Professor of Parody,” p. 43. 

49. Ibid., p. 44. 

50. Judith Butler, Gender Trouble (New York: Routledge, 2004), p. 204. 

51. Ibid., pp. 204-205. 

52. Leslie Heywood and Jennifer Drake, eds., introduction to Third Wave Agenda: Be- 
ing Feminist, Doing Feminism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), p. 3. 

53. Mireya Navarro, “Going Beyond Black and White, Hispanics in Census Pick 
‘Other,’” New York Times, November 9, 2003, late edition, East Coast, Al, A21. 



332 Notes to Chapter Eight 


54. Daisy Hernandez and Bushra Rehman, Colonize This! Young Women of Color 
on Todays Feminism (New York: Seal Press, 2002). 

55. Ibid., p. xxvii. 

56. Navarro, “Going beyond Black and White,” pp. Al, A21. 

57. Chila Bulbeck, Re-orienting Western Feminisms: Womens Diversity in a Postcolonial 
World (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 35. 

58. Ibid., p. 34. 

59. Ibid. 

60. Eileen O’Keefe and Martha Chinouya, “Global Migrants, Gendered Tradition, 
and Human Rights: Africans and HIV in the United Kingdom,” in Feminist Bioethics, 
Human Rights, and the Developing World: Integrating Global and Local Perspectives, ed. 
Susan Dodds, Anne Donchin, and Rosemarie Tong (Lanham, Md.: Roman & Little- 
field, 2004). 

61. Heywood and Drake, Introduction, p. 8. 

62. Ibid. 

63. Rebecca Walker, ed., “Being Real: An Introduction,” in To Be Real: Telling the 
Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism (New York: Anchor Books, 1995), pp. 
xxxiii-xxxiv. 

64. Quoted in Cathryn Bailey, “Unpacking the Mother/Daughter Baggage: Reassess- 
ing Second- and Third- Wave Tensions,” Womens Studies Quarterly 3 and 4, no. 30 (fall 
2002): 144. 

65. Ann Braithwaite, “The Personal, the Political, Third- Wave and Postfeminisms,” 
Feminist Theory 3, no. 3 (December 2002): 340. 

66. Bailey, “Unpacking the Mother/Daughter Baggage,” p. 145. 

67. Allison L. Howry and Julia T. Wood, “Something Old, Something New, 
Something Borrowed: Themes in the Voices of a New Generation of Feminists,” 
Southern Communication Journal A, no. 66 (summer 2001): 324. 

68. Ann Ferguson, “Sex and Work: Women As a New Revolutionary Class,” in 
An Anthology of Western Marxism: From Lukacs and Gramsci to Socialist Feminism, ed. 
Robert S. Gottlieb (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 352. 

69. Katie Roiphe, The Morning Afier: Sex, Fear, and Feminism on Campus (New 
York: Little & Brown, 1993); Camille Paglia, Sex, Art, and American Culture: Essays 
(New York: Random House, 1992); and Rene Denfield, The New Victorians: A 
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333 



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